The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Health Benefits of Gardening

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

It's the first of the year. Time for noise makers and confetti. And time for the parade of ads for fitness equipment, fitness gear, tapes, CDs, pills, balls, belts and bands. For many of us January 1 marks our renewed commitment to exercise more, eat more nutritious food and have a healthier lifestyle. What if I told you there is an activity that can provide strength and cardio training and increase flexibility. Plus the activity can relieve stress and provide nutritious food. You get all that and you don't have to buy an expensive towel rack to do it.

No surprise this wonder activity is gardening.

Gardening provides the regular physical exercise listed in the prevention of heart disease, obesity, adult-onset diabetes and high blood pressure. It also provides the strength training important in the prevention of osteoporosis. Put a gallon sprinkling can full of water in each hand and you got your 8 pound dumbbells. Finish off with lifting a wheelbarrow and you got your bicep workout.

As with any physical activity it's best to learn proper techniques so you don't hurt yourself. Check with your doctor if you have specific concerns.

Gardening provides fresh fruits and vegetables and the encouragement to eat them. Once you are blessed with a bushel basket of tomatoes you will have new found interest in a new recipe for tomatoes. A mother commented to me once that her son would never eat peas on his dinner plate but he would eat them right out of the garden. A strawberry you pick right from the garden will taste sweeter partly because you know you grew it yourself. In addition when you grow your own food you have control over what pesticides or fertilizers are used. Fresh herbs are also a bonus from the garden. Herbs enhance the flavor of foods thereby reducing the use of salt and sugar. Most herbs are very easy to grow and herb growing is one of the best ways to jump into gardening.

Gardening requires you to use your head and your creativity. The time spent planning the garden and researching different plants is a great brain workout. Gardening gives us a chance to be creative. You can let your personality shine through in your garden.

Gardening connects you with people. It's like walking down the street with a new puppy. Everybody talks to a gardener. It's also a great activity to do with kids. Give them a section of the garden all their own. Some of the best lessons can be learned in the garden such as delayed gratification and don't leave a rake on the ground with the head pointing upwards.

Gardening connects you with nature and the rhythm of life. Gardening requires you to live in garden time. We all could use a lesson in slowing down. Studies have revealed just viewing a garden or nature has healthy psychological benefits.

Gardening can be especially beneficial for people with special needs or those recovering from illness. Gardening promotes an increased range of motion, develops eye-hand coordination, improves motor skills and increases self esteem. Over the past few years special tools and garden designs to make gardens more accessible have become readily available.

Have fun gardening. Relax and remember your garden doesn't have to be picture perfect all the time. Resolve to have a garden this year. Whether it's a window box or an acre garden, you will be healthier for it. I read somewhere that "gardening is a labor of love. A treadmill is just labor."

U of I Herb Day Saturday January 29, 2005 Holiday Inn in Urbana, Illinois from 8:00 am-4:30 pm. Programs on cooking, growing and using herbs. Contact Carol Preston 217-333-7738 or preston1@uiuc.edu

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