Gardening enhances your health in many ways. Food you grow is better tasting and more nutritious, you control the chemicals used and the exercise improves your mental and physical health.
Research shows eating locally grown foods, whether homegrown or purchased at a local farmers market, gives you the highest nutritional value because the produce is fresher and more nutritious than fruits and veggies shipped from around the world, which lose nutritive value in transit.
Fresh also tastes better because there is less time from harvest to table, allowing the produce to be picked at peak flavor and ripeness, rather than picked early to ripen during shipping and distribution.
The better it tastes, the more you will eat. Eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables and herbs allows you to eat a low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-calorie and low-sodium diet, while the fiber found in these foods gives you a longer-lasting feeling of fullness.
Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of some cancers, heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
Therefore, when choosing which fruits and vegetables to eat, you should pick a rainbow of colors because important nutrients are found in different colors of produce.
Red fruits and veggies aid in a healthy heart. Blue and purple promote a healthy heart and memory. Yellow and orange are good for healthy eyes and immune systems, and greens help regulate blood pressure, prevent bone loss and protect cells.
Growing all kinds of herbs to use for seasoning instead of salt reduces sodium intake and high blood pressure.
Gardening is good for your health in more ways than simply providing fruits and vegetables for good nutrition. Gardening is often overlooked as a good source of moderate exercise, with health benefits equivalent to walking or biking.
Gardening is good exercise because it uses and stretches so many muscles. Carrying a bucket of compost, spading to plant a tree, raking, hoeing, wrestling boulders and trimming and pruning bushes all use different muscles, giving the body a healthy workout.
Being in the sun also provides much needed vitamin D for strong bones and calcium absorption — just be sure to protect your skin with sunscreen and clothing.
Before attempting any strenuous gardening task, check with your health care provider and be sure to do warm up and cool down exercises just as you would for any other physical exercise.
Research from the University of Missouri Extension points to the mental health benefits of gardening. Its publication, “Community Gardening Toolkit — The Benefits of Community Gardening” (Malakoff, 1995), states: “Interacting with plants and having access to nature help reduce stress and increase gardeners’ sense of wellness and belonging.”
In an article titled “Therapeutic Gardening,” Virginia Cooperative Extension states: “Everyone can get rewards from gardening whether these are physical, emotional, spiritual or mental well-being. … We often don’t realize that it can improve communication and social skills, confidence and self-esteem, feelings of well-being, nutrition, knowledge and enjoyment.”
In summary, gardening — whether an enjoyable hobby or a chore — provides fresh, good-tasting and nutritious food, is as chemical-free as you choose, and is good physical and mental exercise, which overall makes a healthier you.
So what’s not to like about gardening? Let’s all get growing.
Brenda Jarboe is a nutrition educator, coordinator for the Community Garden Network for the Shawnee County Extension Office and a Shawnee County Master Gardener.