Well we all know there is no fountain of youth as sought by Juan Ponce de Leon. However, there are great things that can contribute to our health and well being. As I enter into my 21st year as a gardener, I can say with confidence that gardening activity is one of the greatest untapped stress busters today. It has certainly changed my life for the better. When I first started, I envisioned myself much as the image of the 1983 New Yorker cover, someday sitting in my arboretum enjoying the fruits of my labors over a cup of Earl Grey. But as the years went by, I realized how valuable the overall activity of gardening was for my spirit mind and body. No longer is it reserved for the retiring individual with enormous time on their hands. I submit that even a few hours a week out in the garden trumps working out in a overcrowded fitness center.
So much is written about the concepts of garden design, plant selections and gardening practices. Well how about you consider the remarkable health benefits of this age old activity? Yes I realize our busy days of juggling the likes of work, family, and home are filled with deadlines and stress despite the assurances our age of technology will lighten the load. It is difficult to carve out “just one more thing” in a day. But, a second look at gardening activity as part of your journey to better health and wellness is well worth your while as we approach our outdoor weather friendly season here in the North Country.
The organic path of gardening has its roots in physicality: active motion, lifting, bending, all in the fresh air outdoors. The garden becomes your own personal fitness center, grading your weights, handling tools, and repetitive motions that give you aerobic benefits. Did you know there is actually tremendous body/mind “centering” benefits that comes from the deep pressure to our joints digging in the dirt. It is a basic sensory motor phenomenon we as occupational therapists used with children for the past 3-4 decades. And the more we use our muscles, the greater our motor memory and muscle tone. You know the old saying…use it or lose it.
Some of my greatest ideas, self directed debates and reasonable decisions have come to me during the activity of gardening. The clean air provided by the plant life and heavy work improves brain function. Designing and following patterns in the garden gives rise to formidable cerebral activity. So put down the word searches and the brain development software and get outside and garden! When we first moved to the area our dear neighbor George approaching 90 years old spent as much time as he could each season out in his garden. Up until the last year of his life, he was out there solo with the maintenance and harvests. He took such pride in growing pumpkins for our young daughters one season. We marveled at both the physical and mental resilience he demonstrated from years in this activity.
The outdoor activity has remarkable benefits to encourage quality sleep. Work a day out in the garden and trust me you will have no problem sleeping that night! Current research suggests quality sleep to be a main factor in good health and wellness. So forget the pills and chalk up another benefit to gardening.
And then there is the psychological self satisfaction of your garden outcomes. Gardening is an activity that yields a remarkable end product from your efforts. I see this level of accomplishment each year in our annual Go Green Community Build Project. Guys and gals who have never picked up a garden tool in their life, are amazed to discover the exhilaration achieved a few hours out installing a garden. They look in astonishment at their end of day outcome.
So as the snow continues to melt, forget the gym and get outdoors and garden. But keep it sensible and sustainable by starting out small and functional. Remember Rome was not built in a day! Health and wellness is not just limited to personal gardening. As our culture looks to offer greater health and wellness options for children, in the workplace and as a community, gardening initiatives can be a simple solution.