The health benefits of gardening

The love for gardening spans generations. Just about anyone can dig, plant, and pull up weeds, and the rewards of your efforts sprout and blossom before your eyes at harvest time. Gardening's benefits extend beyond baskets of veggies or flowers nestled in a vase. Gardening enriches your body, your diet, and your spirit.

Working in the garden provides you with an outdoor fitness alternative. Rather than schlepping to the gym and plodding on the treadmill, you might push a lawnmower under sunny skies. Instead of lifting weights, you dig into the soil while listening to a bird's song.

Gardening's bone-building benefits are predictable in the same way we know weight training can help build bones. The related tasks require your body to shift and move from position to position – engaging many muscle groups and challenging your joint flexibility and strength. During a gardening session, a safe and healthy gardener would alternate between lifting, stretching, walking, kneeling, climbing, raking, weeding, and digging.

Pass an hour tending to your general gardening tasks – turning the soil, planting, hoeing – and you're likely to burn about 250 calories. Get down and dirty, dredging, digging, and weeding, and you'll shed a good 350 calories. That's more than you'd lose in an hour of brisk fitness walking, and you may get a bundle of carrots or some fresh tomatoes in exchange for your effort.

Thanks to healthy harvests from your garden, your diet may become more nutritious. People who have their hands in the growth process of their food tend to eat more vegetables, fruits, and fresh herbs. When you watch tomatoes mature from small green buds to full blush-red fruits, you're more likely to slice them up into a salad or stew them into a soup.

A happier, calmer state of mind may be another benefit you take away from gardening. An actual clinical profession exists, called horticultural therapy, in which people in places like rehabilitation programs, nursing homes, and hospitals engage in gardening tasks as part of their treatment plan. Maybe it's the sunshine that boosts a gardener's mood. Maybe digging in the soil restores our connection to our senses and to the natural world. Maybe being part of creating something, something beneficial or beautiful, leads to feelings of contentment. Maybe the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson was on to something when he wrote that the "Earth laughs in flowers."

In addition to these, if you have a family, introducing your children to gardening will get them moving and exercising, setting them up for a good health routine when they get older.

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