For many of us, spring means getting out into the garden. This can provide us with vegetables, herbs and flowers for decoration — not to mention curb appeal. But did you know gardening offers many health benefits as well?
You may not think pulling weeds and spreading mulch is much of a workout, but gardening actually is great exercise. Light gardening like pulling weeds, pruning and planting flowers burns about 330 calories per hour, or the equivalent of walking at a moderate pace for one hour. Raking leaves would be considered a moderate-intensity activity and burns anywhere from 350- 450 calories per hour.
When we garden, we twist, bend, and reach, engaging many muscle groups — which in turn increases muscle and bone strength and flexibility. And unlike going to the gym for 30 minutes, it is easy to get engrossed in what you’re doing and not even realize you’re breaking a sweat. Furthermore, people garden for two to three times longer than they stay at the gym; over time, that can add up.
Regular exercise in any form is so important, as it can lower blood pressure and help you maintain a healthy body weight, which in turn can decrease your risk of many health conditions like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Working in the garden also allows us to soak up sunshine and synthesize vitamin D, which is important for bone health and proper immune system function. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to many health problems, including cancer.
Studies also reveal that working in the garden decreases stress and anxiety. Gardening for just 30 minutes has been shown to drop cortisol (our stress hormone) levels. Had a stressful day at work? Spend 30 minutes in your garden after work to melt that stress away.
Maybe one of the most surprising benefits of getting your hands dirty is that exposure to a friendly bacteria found in the soil, mycobacterium vaccae, has been found to increase serotonin levels in the brain (our brain’s happy/ feel good chemical), which in turn can decrease depression, anxiety and stress.
While gardening can be a solo activity, you may want to get the kids involved. Early exposure to dirt/soil has been linked to long-term health benefits for kids, such as reducing allergies and autoimmune diseases. Also, studies suggest that kids who are involved in gardening are more likely to try fruits and vegetables and develop better lifelong healthy eating habits.
So go ahead — plant some flowers and get your hands dirty. It’s good for you.
Dr. Pamela Tuli is a hematologist-oncologist practicing with The Medical Oncology Group – Memorial Physician Clinics. She can be contacted at (228)-575-1234.