Gardening: Your Body Will Dig It


by By Barbara Schuetze /

Posted on July 17, 2009 at 10:24 AM

Updated Thursday, Nov 12 at 1:53 PM

About the Author

Barbara Schuetze is a Portland, Ore., freelance writer who specializes in health and wellness topics. She has written for most of the major health systems in Oregon and Southwest Washington, and her work has appeared in magazines, newspapers and on the Web. She has been writing professionally since 1983.

Imagine having the power to look out your window or step outside in the yard and reduce your blood pressure, improve your mood and relieve muscle tension.

It may sound like a fantasy, but it's true--a number of different studies have indicated that visual exposure to plants and other forms of nature can foster significant restoration or recovery from stress. A University of Michigan study in particular shows that the restorative benefits of viewing or being in a garden happen automatically, within three minutes--without doing anything.

And when you get out there and engage in gardening, you multiply the benefits.

Cultivating Good HealthGardening is an ideal exercise because it promotes strength, increases endurance and flexibility, and burns calories. And then there are the mental-health benefits: Gardens help you unwind and find balance. What's more, cultivating your garden is good for the earth.

"Gardens aid in all aspects of health and well-being," says Teresia Hazen, registered horticultural therapist and coordinator of Legacy Health Systems' Therapeutic Gardens & Horticultural Therapy programs. The five-hospital system includes healing gardens in Portland, Ore., and Salmon Creek, Wash.

Since gardening has such a range of health and wellness benefits for people of all ages and ability levels, therapeutic or healing garden programs have been blossoming in the Northwest and nationwide. Horticultural therapy incorporates adaptive, alternative methods for people of any age or skill level who want to garden.

Popularity of Gardening Growing Gardening is one of the country's top leisure activities. Everyone's doing it (including the first lady), and practically anyone can--even if you're an apartment dweller: With hanging gardens, gardens in pots, rooftop gardens and community gardens, the variations on the traditional back yard garden are endless. It's just a matter of finding the right match for you and digging in.

Not in the mood for the gym? There's plenty of exercise potential in your own backyard.

You'll walk, bend, stretch, stoop and "weight" lift while engaging in such activities as preparing the ground for planting, hauling bags of top soil and bark mulch, transplanting plants or shrubs, digging weeds, raking leaves and mowing the lawn, and pulling rocks from the soil. "Gardening increases your flexibility, builds endurance and benefits your muscles, bones, and respiratory and cardiovascular systems," says Hazen. Most gardening activities provide moderate or strenuous exercise.

Strenuous yard work, such as pushing a lawn mower or pulling weeds, gives you the same benefit for building bone density as weight training. Not only that, you're out in the fresh air, burning calories and sprucing up your yard.

If you're older, pregnant, or have any health concerns, check with your doctor before starting demanding gardening activities. And if you've been inactive for a while, start slow and gradually build up in increments of time and intensity.

And, no matter what level of physical fitness you're at, it is important to take stretch breaks while you garden, as well as thoroughly stretching out after the fact.

Planting the Seeds of Serenity In addition to producing fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers, gardens can nourish your mind and bring peace and balance into your life.

"Gardening makes my life better, brings me peace and pride of creativity," says William McClenathan, store director of the Portland Nursery in Portland, Ore., and co-host of "Garden Time," a TV show that airs in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. "Everyone needs more time to unwind and cope with stress," he says. "All you have to do is get off your computer and get out in the yard."

According to Hazen, gardening provides mental stimulation, whether it's studying garden catalogs, planning out plots, learning how to grow plants and solving problems that arise, such as safely transplanting a full-sun plant from a shady spot in the yard. Gardening is good for the whole family, too--it helps children learn how to follow directions and develop a sense of responsibility for the things they have planted.

"Gardening is a creative endeavor that allows you to connect with nature and the rhythm of life," adds Hazen "You learn how to be patient, slow down and be more attentive to your own body and [to] nature."

Two Kinds of Green Growing organic fruits and vegetables produces fresh, nutritious food that's easy to obtain, easy on the budget and oftentimes much more flavorful than the shipped-in produce you get from the supermarket. Plus, flowers and shrubs beautify your home and neighborhood. Curb appeal is always a good thing.

But gardening is more than a hobby. "Gardeners manage plants that &hellip help process carbon dioxide and clean the air," says Hazen. "And gardeners who promote organic methods, which is the best way to garden, help reduce toxic chemicals in the soil, waterways, our food and air. Organic gardening promotes the healthy balance of wildlife that we need for a healthy environment."

According to McClenathan, it's important to think about what happens in your yard naturally and try to plant appropriately. "For example, to conserve water, use wet areas for plants that like more moisture, or plant in pots instead of the ground."

Can You Dig It? McClenathan encourages everyone to get out in the garden, "We were all novices in the garden at one time and we can choose to pursue any level of involvement that we want."

With so many benefits awaiting you, how can you resist the soft spring breezes, fragrant smell of flowers in bloom, and the thought of fresh veggies and herbs picked from your own yard? So, get out and garden. It's time to stop and plant the roses.