The University of Nevada, Reno Master Gardener Intern Ingrid Angelini is always looking out for ways for all of us to stay healthy. Here are some of her tips and why gardening will help you stay healthy.
Gardening can benefit us in 3 ways: It can add to our strength, balance our emotional state, and sharpen our mental abilities.
Moving around in the garden, making sure the wildlife is being kept at bay, checking on plant health, soil moisture, plucking off tomato hornworms or deterring ants keeps you moving, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that that burns more calories than being a couch potato. It is well known that an active lifestyle reduces the incidence of obesity and high blood pressure, for example.
Other benefits which have been proven include a reduction in the incidence of osteoporosis and stroke, a reduction in the level of the stress hormone, Cortisol, and exposure to the healthy bacterium, Mycobacterium vaccae. This organism Mycobacterium vaccae (species name is derived from the Latin word for cow, vacca, not vaccine), it resides in the soil, from where diffuses into the air. We inhale it when we are outdoors. It has been found to increase Serotonin levels in our bodies. Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters, chemicals which exist between nerve cells and conduct electrical impulse from one nerve cell to the next. When the Serotonin that is secreted when we’re exposed to that good bacteria in the soil we feel less anxious. It also contributes to strengthening our immune system,
We all probably know that intense physical activity will foster deep sleep, but even light physical activity, while gardening, can lead to a better night’s rest. University research has proven that you can simultaneously enjoy yourself in the garden, and also work all the major muscle groups: legs, buttocks, arms, shoulders, neck, back and abdomen. Those gardening tasks which use these muscles increase strength and burn calories. Some activities of gardening exert and stretch muscles, for example, when one reaches for weeds or tall branches, bends to plant or extends a rake. Resistance training, similar to weight lifting, comes from lifting a 2 cubic foot bag of whatever, pushing wheelbarrows and shoveling, all of which leads to increasing the health of bones and joints. Albeit with little or no body stress or jarring, which one would experience by jogging or doing aerobics
Other research has also found that gardening, can reduce the risk of colon cancer and premature death, and notes that exercising both the arms and legs helps to prevent afflictions such as coronary disease. (That’s almost a no-brainer.)
Examining the physical aspects of what we are doing when we’re gardening, we find that tasks using hand tools, such as those for digging, planting and weeding, strengthen the muscles in the fingers, hands, forearms, and to some extent, the upper arms. Using a shovel, hoe or rake is going to involve the entire body: hands, arms, shoulders, back, abdomen, buttocks, legs, and feet. Activities like those will benefit muscle groups in all those areas.
Even more so, when we’re engaged in more intense activities, like pushing a wheelbarrow with a load of compost or soil amendment. It has been shown that gardening rates up there with other moderate to strenuous forms of exercise, but it all depends on what gardening task you are doing and for how long. Walking is considered to be moderate to vigorous exercise. It can be more of a stroll, but it can also be ramped up, for those who are in good shape. Otherwise, it may not be as aerobic as shoveling, hoeing or raking, but being able to be outdoors, provides a certain level of cardiovascular benefits as mentioned earlier.
By Ingrid Angelini