Gardening: The Health Benefits of Getting Dirty
Gardening might seem like a bit of a strange topic but as I pondered what to write about for my first contribution to the Naturally Inclined blog posts, I settled on gardening for a couple of reasons. First off, I thought it was a nice way to introduce myself because gardening is one of my favorite hobbies. Second, gardening has a whole host of health benefits that you might not be aware of. While there is nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned workout, I think there is so much value to finding ways in our day-to-day lives that keep us active rather than relying solely on time set aside for exercise. Furthermore, gardening has the potential to bring us joy, purpose, and a big supply of delicious foods right at your fingertips! Let’s explore why someone might want to take up gardening followed by some tips/tricks when space or resources are limited.
Has anyone ever told you to eat your vegetables? I’m going to go ahead and guess yes, so I’ll keep it brief here. Most vegetables are jam-packed with vitamins, minerals, fibre, and phytonutrients - these are the naturally occurring chemicals in vegetables that make them colourful and confer many health benefits. Knowing that information doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to increase your intake, especially if it isn’t a habit for you. If the veggies are already in your yard, you’re probably going to eat them. It sounds logical, but is it true? Yes! Some small studies have looked at this and found that individuals who participate in gardening seem to be much more likely to consume fruits and vegetables. This doesn’t just apply to adults. Children are far more likely to have a positive outlook towards consuming vegetables when they get hands-on gardening experience.
Gardening counts as physical activity! Moderate intensity activity (such as gardening) can reduce risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, depression, and other health conditions. Spending a little more time in the sunshine also enables our bodies to produce vitamin D, which we are notorious for being deficient in up here in the northern hemisphere (that being said, always remember to protect yourself from sunburn.) This can be a great way to stay active that you really look forward to.
Nature therapy. Gardening can help us step away from the hustle of everyday life and connect us with the plants and soil that nourish our bodies. This is important for our mental health. Spending time in nature has been shown to be a useful tool to help reduce stress and anxiety. Gardening has even been studied as an effective adjunct therapy to those recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and those in cancer remission.
It is fun! Helping something go from a tiny seed into a plant that you can eat for dinner is an incredibly rewarding and exciting process. Don’t get me wrong - there are moments of frustration and disappointment, but this isn’t this true anytime we’re learning a new skill?
Less big decisions at the grocery store. Organic or conventional? GMO or non-GMO? Local or imported? Gluten-free? Vegan? The list of options goes on and on. Yes, it is important to consider what has happened to your food before you eat it but with so much information out there and so many choices, something as simple as picking a bag of carrots can be a mental chore. When you grow your produce, you get to control what goes on your plants and into the soil they grow in. The cost of organic seeds (which also means they cannot be genetically modified) is often the same or at least comparable to non-organic, which means that choosing organic doesn’t need to break the bank. Growing your own vegetables is also about as “local” as you can get, which means reducing the environmental impact of your food.
So, where am I supposed to put this garden?
For many of us, the most outdoor space available is a balcony or maybe a small concrete pad. The good news is that many plants grow very well in planters, and nowadays it is possible to get planters to suit all types of spaces. It can be as easy as getting a pot, filling with soil and planting the seeds. If access to a balcony or small space isn’t in the cards for you, consider looking into a community garden or community shared agriculture (CSA). A CSA is a situation when you buy “shares” of a local farm’s harvest and generally commit to helping out with the seeding/weeding/harvesting a few times a season. If you have minimal exposure to gardening, this is a great way to learn about the process before starting your own.
If you want to give it a try but feel unsure where to start, reach out to your local nursery or horticulture group. They’re likely more than happy to point you in the right direction.
Start with the basics. Plants need healthy soil, some sunshine, and some water. If you can give them that then you’re off to a great start.
You will make mistakes and plants will die. It is all part of the process. Ask questions, learn from your mistakes and just like anything else, you will improve with practice.
Don’t forget about herbs! A herb garden is easy and takes very little space. These little plants are packed with health-promoting phytonutrients and can really spice up a recipe!