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How Gardening Can Improve Your Health and Help You Live Longer

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Planting and tending to veggie, fruit and flower gardens provides healthy food for you and your family as well as beautifying your yard. But did you know this seemingly routine activity can actually extend your life?

As a form of exercise, gardening has several benefits for your social, physical and psychological health that can add years to your life. The act of gardening takes you into an altered state of consciousness, similar to the one during a meditation routine. This state is truly magical, tranquil and spiritual, where you can experience the best of you.

Several studies show that gardening is linked to longer life. A 1988 study published in Activities, Adaptation & Aging asserts that gardening has numerous therapeutic benefits for the elderly.

Not only this, the emerging concept of ‘horticulture therapy’ is proving extremely beneficial for improving your overall health. This therapy focuses on engaging with nature for mental and physical rehabilitation.

It mediates emotional, cognitive and/or sensory motor functional improvement, increased social participation, health and well-being, and life satisfaction. A 2004 study in Pediatric Rehabilitation substantiates the effectiveness of horticulture therapy on your health.

how gardening improves your health

Here are some of the numerous benefits that gardening provides.

1. Reduces Stress

Stress relief is the immediate effect of gardening. In fact, no other relaxing leisure activity helps more in fighting stress.

The very sight and smell of flowers and plants promote relaxation and peace of mind. The sound of leaves and the aura in itself has a therapeutic effect, which brings you closer to a stress-free mind and later a blissful sleep.

The exposure to sunlight while gardening increases the secretion of serotonin (a natural antidepressant) and melatonin (the sleep hormone) in the brain, thus keeping the brain balanced, stress-free and inducing a healthy sleep cycle by maintaining the circadian rhythm (the brain’s internal biological clock).

In addition, gardening keeps your mind distracted from your problems for a while. It calls for deliberate mental focus on gardening actions that helps you forget or set aside your personal problems while engaging in the tasks.

In a 2005 report by Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, researchers highlighted the effects of being in a garden or a natural space. It was found that people who had access to a garden had significantly fewer stress occasions per year than people living in flats without a balcony.

A 2011 study published in the Journal of Health Psychology asserts that gardening promotes neuroendocrine and affective restoration from stress. It states that gardening leads to reduced levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the brain and infuses positive moods that promote relief from stress.

2. Fights Depression

The effortless attention of gardening helps improve symptoms of depression. Gardening activity helps reduce the secretion of cortisol and aids recovery from depression.

A 2007 study published in the Neuroscience concludes that a certain type of bacteria found in soil aids in increasing serotonin metabolism in the brain. This in turn helps boost your mood and relieve depression.

Another study published in Research and Theory of Nursing Practice in 2009 suggests that therapeutic horticulture can be used for treating clinical depression. It may decrease depression severity and improve perceived attention capacity by engaging effortless attention and interrupting rumination.

According to a recent 2015 study published in the Journal of Rehabilitation Sciences and Research, the purposeful activity of gardening had positive effects on decreasing depression in depressed female students.

Scientists have even come up with horticulture therapy, a gardening routine for individuals with serious mental health issues and disorders, which helps in recovery and rehabilitation.

A 2011 study in the Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture proved that horticulture therapy helped people see themselves in a more positive light. It helped them manage their emotional and behavioral issues in a better way.

3. Improves Cognitive Health

A few studies suggest that physical activity associated with gardening is helpful in lowering the risk of developing dementia.

In a 2006 study published in the Medical Journal of Australia, researchers analyzed 115 cases of dementia in 1,233 men (9.3/100) and 170 cases in 1,572 women (10.8/100). After prolonged analysis, researchers found daily gardening helped reduce the incidence of dementia by 36 percent.

Another 2007 study published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry asserted that indoor gardening was effective for sleep, agitation and cognition of dementia patients.

A recent 2016 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease reported that a variety of physical activities, from walking to gardening to dancing, can improve brain volume and cut the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 50 percent.

4. Adds Physical Activity to Your Routine

Gardening is as good for you as swimming or jogging. It gets your blood moving and gets you out in the sunshine, breathing fresh air.

A 2004 paper published in the Kansas State Electronic Theses, Dissertations, and Reports found gardening to be a predictor for leading a physically active lifestyle and high life satisfaction in older adults.

Different actions of gardening, such as gripping, stooping, lifting, stretching, walking, standing, kneeling, sitting and squatting, require body movements that provide exercise benefits. In fact, activities like digging and raking are considered to be high intensity physical activities, while the other activities considered moderate intensity physical activities.

A 2014 study published in HortTechnology asserts that gardening activities performed by adults are moderate- to high-intensity physical activities.

Another 2014 study published in BioMed Central highlights the potential for school gardens for increasing children’s physical activity and decreasing sedentary behaviors.

Gardening activity is an excellent form of exercise requiring repetitive strength and stretching, enabling your body to move. And the best part is, it is pleasurable and hence you stick to it and do it more often.

As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2.5 hours of a moderate-intensity exercise activity each week is very helpful in reducing the risk of high blood pressure, obesity, depression, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, strokes, colon cancer and premature death. The CDC considers gardening to be a moderate-intensity level activity that can help you achieve your 2.5-hour goal.

5. Provides Organic Produce

The best benefit of gardening is your own high-quality, pesticide-free fruits and vegetables.

The food that you grow yourself is the freshest and healthiest that you can eat. No toxins, no pesticides, no preservatives, just raw and organic, healthy and fresh! Plus, you can choose your own organic fertilizers.

Gardening also gives you an opportunity to harvest foods at their peak time, thus retaining all their nutrients, which are otherwise lost in fruits due to early picking (unripe) for safe shipping.

A 2011 study published in NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences analyzed several studies and indicates the potential health effects of organic food. However, future studies are needed in several areas.

It has also been found that those who grow their own food tend to eat healthier, including more fruits and vegetables, than others. In fact, gardeners tend to eat one or two more serving of fruits and raw vegetables than those who are not into gardening.

Not to mention that homegrown produce simply tastes better and gives you more satisfaction.

6. Burns Calories

Gardening is a physical activity involving the use of the upper and lower body in a range of tasks, such as digging, raking, turning compost, weeding, mixing soil, sowing and many more. These activities range from moderate-intensity physical exercises to slow but with frequent standing or squatting postures.

In fact, though unintentionally but surprisingly, you tend to perform 45 to 50 squats in a one- or two-hour gardening session. And this is just enough to keep your waistline trimmed!

A 2013 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that both female and male community gardeners had significantly lower body mass index (BMI) than their neighbors who were not in the community gardening program.

The estimated BMI reductions in the multivariate analyses were −1.84 for women and −2.36 for men.

Another 2014 report from the Benefits of Gardening and Food Growing for Health and Wellbeing says that regular involvement in gardening or community food-growing projects, or formal horticultural therapy, can increase overall levels of physical activity and fitness, burn more calories and hence contribute to healthy weight management and reducing the risk of obesity.

Further, calorie counters from the CDC estimate that you can burn up to 330 calories in just one hour of light gardening and yard work. And that is more than most other moderate-intensity activities for the same amount of time!

So, if you wish to keep in shape or are looking forward to dropping a few inches, you can engage in 30 to 45 minutes of gardening three to five times a week.

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