It’s that time of year again when the budding flowers and cool, dewy mornings beckon you to come out and play in the dirt. While your kids may have encouraged you to find less physically demanding ways to spend your time lately, the fact of the matter is that, if you take the right precautions and use the right equipment, gardening can actually be very beneficial to your physical and mental health!
- Improves mobility and flexibility Although you may be a bit sore after an afternoon in the garden, all that bending, stooping, pushing and pulling will ultimately improve your mobility and flexibility, which in turn, can help prevent injury. If you’re performing activities like shoveling, raking or mulching, you can also increase your endurance and your strength (which can help counteract the normal loss of muscle that comes with aging).
- Lowers risk of osteoporosis. When you push a wheelbarrow or turn over soil, you’re, of course, strengthening muscles; however, what you may not know is these weight-bearing exercises can also strengthen your bones. In fact, in a University of Arkansas study of women age 50 years old and older, those who gardened at least once a week had higher bone density measurements than those who were sedentary or who walked, jogged, swam, or did aerobics.
- Eases stress and improves mood. This one may come as no surprise to you, but there’s actual scientific proof to back it up. A study by researchers at Leiden University, and Wageningen University and Research Center showed that as little as 30 minutes of gardening decreased the stress hormone, cortisol, and put participants in a better mood. (Seems Mary wasn’t so contrary after all!)
- Speeds up recovery. When you’re sick, being in nature—even if it’s just visual access—has been proven to reduce pain, blood pressure and stress levels, and can also help you recover faster. Consider the way hospitals are designed, with windows overlooking green spaces and gardens where patients and family members can spend time. This design comes as a result of the groundbreaking clinical research conducted by environmental psychologist Roger Ulrich in 1984. In his paper, “View Through a Window May Influence Recovery from Surgery,” he showed that surgical patients with trees outside their window recovered a day earlier than those who had nothing but a wall as their view.
Precautions: Before you pull out your shovels and rakes, stretch well and put on that hat and sunscreen. To prevent falls, have someone clear the area of sticks and rocks for you. Drink plenty of liquids to avoid dehydration and take advantage of ergonomic tools to spare your back, knees and wrists. Most importantly, don’t overdo it!