The Healthy Benefits of Gardening
By: Judith Gerber,
MPA, Certified Master Gardner
March is National Nutrition Month and, if you read this blog regularly,
you will hear much about the benefits of eating fresh produce and get
some delicious recipe ideas. But, have you ever considered how the produce
you eat is grown?
Have you thought about growing your own? If you knew that gardening could
help you get healthier and happier, would it make you consider grabbing
your shovel and digging in? Here are just a few benefits to gardening
that might make you decide to get growing.
Gardening is good for us in so many ways, especially when it comes to our
health. One of the biggest health benefits is improved nutrition. Gardening
encourages us to eat healthier because it ensures a steady supply of fresh
produce. You will get a bigger selection of your favorite fruits and vegetables
because you can choose from hundreds of different varieties and you can
grow the things you like the best. Growing things you like means that
you will actually eat more fresh food. Ultimately, this variety also provides
a more diverse diet that offers more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
An added bonus is that growing your own fruits and vegetables means that
you know exactly what does and does not go into your food and exactly
where it comes from. Aside from having more control over what you eat
and how much you eat, you will also have more control over your grocery
bill and can actually reduce food costs.
It is not just better for you nutritionally, but nothing beats the taste
of fresh, homegrown produce. Think about that first juicy tomato of summer,
or sweet summer corn and watermelon. Or, the rich, flavorful leafy greens
and root crops of fall and winter.
Aside from fabulous taste and the nutritional boost, there are other physical
benefits to gardening. Gardening has been shown to help cardiovascular
health by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure; it helps muscle and
bone health and is a great way to get your Vitamin D.
The physical benefits of gardening are often discounted because people
don’t think of it as “real” exercise. But, gardening
is a great low impact exercise and offers the same benefits as other forms
of exercise. Did you know that you can burn as many calories in 45 minutes
of gardening as you can in 30 minutes of aerobics? And, it is this low
impact exercise that can lower blood pressure.
Depending on the task that you are doing, including planting, weeding,
digging, and even harvesting, you are using many different muscle groups,
and all that bending and stretching can help increase your flexibility,
strength and balance.
But, gardening is not just good for your body it can soothe your soul.
I don’t know of many things that can provide both nutritious food
and spiritual renewal but gardening can. To start with, simply by connecting
with nature, just being in a garden provides tranquility and a sense of
peace and calm. It eases stress and anxiety, gives us a quiet place for
reflection and contemplation, and it provides comfort, especially during
I can attest to the fact that working in the garden reduces stress. Connecting
with nature, digging in the dirt, even weeding is one of the best stress
reducers I have found. When I first started gardening, I dreaded the thought
of weeding by hand. I thought it was an unnecessary and unpleasant part
of gardening. As the years have gone by, I have found that weeding is
the one thing that lets me totally unwind and makes me forget about everything
else because I am so intent on getting those weeds out of my garden.
This brings me to another gardening benefit, it allows me to unplug and
forces me to slow down the pace of my life. We are all so plugged in and
connected that working in the garden is the one way that I can get away
from the constant barrage of information that being connected brings with it.
It also raises our self-esteem, and provides a feeling of self-sufficiency
and control. After teaching gardening classes at Torrance Memorial for
the past decade, I have had many people tell me they have “brown
thumbs” or said they killed everything. After learning just a few
basics and growing some of their favorite veggies, they have become avid
gardeners who keep trying new things. The more success you have in your
garden, the more you want to try and the more confident you feel. If your
health is poor and you are feeling helpless; overwhelmed about how to
eat better, it can give you confidence you did not have. This sense of
accomplishment can translate into other things in your life you are reluctant to try.
Gardening also releases our creativity, often without us even realizing
it. Planning the garden for the year or the season, choosing flower colors
and plant palettes, and arranging the fresh flowers from your garden all
require you to use your creative side.
One of the most surprising things that gardening has done for me is to
teach me how to have more patience. Think about it. You can’t rush
nature. If you sow seeds, or plant seedlings, you cannot make them grow
faster than they are able to grow just because you are limited on time
or by pressuring them to grow faster. They grow at the pace they are supposed
to grow at, no faster or slower.
If this makes you want to try to grow your own but wonder where to start,
please come and join us in the Torrance Memorial Learning Garden. If you
want to learn more, sign up for one of our formal
classes or follow here on this blog for easy tips on creating your own garden.
Judith Gerber, MPA, is the Garden Program Coordinator for Torrance Memorial
Medical Center, and a University of California Certified Master Gardener,
in 2009 she created the Torrance Memorial Medical Center Gardening Program
to teach the community how to grow edibles.
If you have questions or would like further information on leading a healthier
lifestyle, contact one of our Registered Dietitian Nutritionists at the
Outpatient Medical Nutrition Therapy Office or our Diabetes Self-Management
Program located in the Torrance Memorial Specialty Center, 2841 Lomita
Blvd., Suite 335, Torrance. Call 310-891-6707. torrancememorial.org/Nutrition