Growing Great Gardens Gives Grand Gains
As the world changes and there are disruptions in the supply chain, many have considered growing a garden. There is no right or wrong way. I have patients who have “tower gardens” that use very little space on their patios, or even in their apartments. Others I know have full farms with fruit and vegetables growing over many acres. Your garden could be in pots on your balcony, or on a community garden plot in the city. No matter what you do, this is one activity that will benefit your health in so many ways.
Gardening for Exercise
The larger the garden, the more work it takes. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a treadmill person. I cannot see my efforts wasted so much as running and going nowhere. If I’m going to use muscles, I want to see some benefits! Gardening is a great way to use muscles. Digging, moving dirt, bringing in topsoil, mulching, building boxes, raking, hoeing, weeding, all help to build muscle and improve blood flow. Exercise is so important for health and creating and maintaining a garden can be a wonderful way to provide that exercise.
Gardening for Sunshine
Being out in your garden on a sunny day is more than just joyful, it is healthy. Regular sunshine has many benefits for the body including increased energy and better sleep.
- The sun regulates your circadian rhythm, keeping you awake during the day, and helping you sleep at night.
- Sunlight increases serotonin which prevents anxiety and depression, allowing relaxation and good sleep.
- The sunlight on the skin in the infrared spectrum warms you, but also turns on proteins in your cells that make energy.
- The UV light also makes vitamin D. Studies show that only 30 minutes in the sun can make up to 10,000 IU in dark-skinned people, and 50,000 IU of vitamin D in light-skinned people. This stimulates the immune system, which is why colds and flus happen in the winter, instead of the summer.
The sun keeps us healthy. Working outdoors in your garden gives you all the benefits of sunshine.
Gardening is Grounding
Also known as “earthing,” grounding is getting your body to touch the earth. Walking barefoot, lying in the grass, walking through a forest, or digging with your hands in the dirt all allow a connection with the earth.
An electrical circuit requires a ground wire to prevent the build-up of electricity in your devices from shocking people. The human organism also runs on “electricity” or positive ions. Over time negative ions build up and disrupt the normal flow of energy. Grounding releases the negative ions and restores the flow of energy. Studies show two benefits of grounding:
- The circadian rhythm becomes regular, and cortisol levels become normal. Multiple studies show that camping, being out in nature, or gardening can lower stress hormone levels.
- Improves circulation in the body.
There are a lot of issues related to circadian rhythm and circulation. A good circadian rhythm keeps the adrenal glands functioning for energy and longevity. Fibromyalgia, arthritis, and back pain are mostly related to blood flow. Regularly working in your garden, getting your hands in the dirt, can relieve pain, and improve function. Periodic grounding is good for your immune system, preventing many kinds of illnesses.
Gardening for Probiotics
The soil holds a plethora of microbiological benefits. The organisms in the soil are good for us in many ways. We are often told things are “dirty” and must be cleaned. We wash the dirt off our hands and food before eating. While washing off the chemicals sprayed on the food is a good idea, the bacteria, and fungi, and even viruses, are actually good for us.
There are bacteria in the soil that increase serotonin and make people happy. Those who have more exposure to soil bacteria as children have less autoimmune problems, allergies, and asthma. The immune system functions better with good bacteria growing in the intestines. If someone has little exposure as a child, they can benefit from more exposure as an adult. The key is to get a lot of different bacteria. The bacteria grow in your colon from food, like “prebiotic” fiber, from the fruit and vegetables in your garden. Thus, a garden is a perfect mix of prebiotics and probiotics to maintain a healthy gut – and a healthy brain.
Gardening is Bonding with Others
Gardening is a great group activity. If you have a family with young children, they can gain all the benefits from growing food or other plants. When I was a child, my mom paid us to pull weeds – a penny a weed – in her garden. We started pulling and found that the weeds often broke off. We then pulled the rest and got paid double! My mom got smart and started paying a penny for a root. (Don’t tell her, but we found out that we could carefully split a complex root system into many multiples… 😊) I think we had a lot of great experiences from those gardens. We ate food that we grew. If I was hungry, I could go out to the garden and pick a carrot and eat it (I don’t remember if I washed it – more soil probiotics). My brothers and I bonded while working in the garden.
If you don’t have your own yard to garden, some towns have community garden areas available. People who live in the neighborhood can claim a plot and grow what they want on this land. Communities can come together over gardens. They share watering or fertilizing. They often share the harvest with others in the neighborhood. In ancient times, Abraham did this. He had gardens growing where travelers could stop to rest and eat. Sharing our food with others bonds us to them.
Gardening for Healthier Food
The food that comes from a garden has no pesticides, or chemicals. It has nutrients that you do not get from food that is in the store, even when it’s fresh. When plants are still growing, they make volatile nutrients, such as sulfur compounds, that are lost as the food ages. Fresh-picked food is more nutritious than packed and shipped store-bought food, which loses its nutritional over time.
Spinach loses 100% of its vitamin C content in seven days if stored at room temperature, and 75% if refrigerated. Carrots lose 27% of their vitamin C content when stored for a week at room temperature. This happens because the living food still has cellular activity. The enzymes in the fruit and vegetables are still using the nutrients, but those nutrients aren’t being replaced by the plant. Produce may be sitting in the grocery store more than a week before you get to it so it will be less nutritious than food that has just been picked.
Also, much of our produce is grown for shipping and shelf-life and not for nutrition (or even taste!) I won’t buy an apricot from a store anymore because even though they are my favorite fruit, those in market taste like squash! I enjoy the ones off my tree. MMMMMM! GOOD! Tomatoes and most fruit are picked green so they can be transported to stores all over the world. Your produce might come from Mexico, Chile, or even the Orient! Some fruit, like apples, are picked unripe and stored for months in cool warehouses. Unripe produce has less nutrition than fruit that is tree ripened.
When you have your own garden, you can pick everything at the perfect ripeness and get the best taste, and the most nutrition.
Gardening for Longevity
It isn’t necessary to grow only food to get health benefits from your garden. Growing plants of any type is healthy. My mom, who is in her 80s, has a rose garden with over a hundred bushes. She works hard several days a week to fertilize, prune, and take care of her roses. When they bloom, she takes bouquets to her neighbors. Everyone appreciates “the lady on the corner with the roses!”
An important part of life is not just living longer, but healthier. There is evidence that gardening helps people to remain healthy into their 90s and beyond by exercising and reducing stress. The so-called “blue zones” where a larger percentage of people remain healthy for a century have one thing in common – gardening! Whether you grow fruit, vegetables, flowers, (or these days, marijuana), it is a good way to prolong your life and improve your function.
Gardening for Self-esteem
When I get vegetables out of my garden and make food for my family, it is especially satisfying. There is a lot of joy in picking fruit and eating something I have grown. I think this is so great because it relieves stress. I take photos of my harvest and share it with family and friends, or on Facebook. I don’t have a green thumb. I’m not good at regular watering and weeding. But somehow, I get a few salads out of my garden, and even have some left over to give to others. Sharing is a great way to improve self-worth.
Gardening as a Work Ethic
There are a few things in life today that require continual work. Most of our lives are on autopilot, allowing us to think about other things. We have automatic dog feeders, automatic washing machines, automatic lights in our homes, an automatic vacuum to clean up the floor, and automatic transmissions in my car; today, you can automate just about everything. A garden is different. Gardens need to be tended regularly. I have automated the watering schedule, that is easy, but I still need to pull the weeds in the garden. I also find that if I fertilize regularly the fruit is better. Walking out the door and seeing the garden full of weeds is my motivation to get to work so I can enjoy a good harvest later.
Gardening for Love
The last benefit of growing a garden is love. Love is when I sacrifice what I want or need to help someone else. Parents do this for their children, and sometimes children for their parents. My wife sacrifices for me. My friends also make sacrifices. The more the sacrifice, and the more the benefit, the more the love. Jesus said the greatest love is to sacrifice your life for the benefit of others.
One day I was out in the garden, pulling weeds, and generally tending to my plants and I thought that I was just wasting time. There are so many other things I could be doing. It seemed to be quite a sacrifice that I was making for my garden. I take time out of my day. I get dirty. I dig, pull, and plant. I go to the store to find seeds or plants. I must make a great deal of effort so my garden will grow. As I looked at all the little fruit growing, yet to ripen, I realized that the garden gives back to me. I love my garden by making a sacrifice for it, and in return my garden loves me by giving my family fruit and vegetables.