Dig Into the Benefits of Gardening

By Barbara Pierce

Tina Jacobs, owner and operator of Devine Gardens in Morrisville.

“It brings me much joy,” said Tina Jacobs, owner and operator of Devine Gardens, Morrisville, when asked what she enjoys about gardening.

“The benefits of fresh air and exercise; the smell of the soil; seeing things grow. The flowers are gorgeous and I love to see how nature works so well together.”

“When you’ve had the experience of growing your own food, you appreciate all food more,” she added. “Home grown food tends to be healthier and tastes better. Gardening gives you fresh air, sun shine and moderate exercise. It also gives you a feeling of well-being.”

Jacobs likes getting people excited about the thrills, joys and benefits of gardening — the multitude of benefits that gardening offers. And she’s excited about introducing folks to the worm castings that she grows at Devine Gardens.

“Yes, I sell worm poop!” she said.

The by-product of worms is full of micro-organisms that are beneficial to the soil. “It helps the soil retain moisture and not be so compact,” she said.

As Jacobs said, there’s increasing evidence that exposure to gardening, to plants and green spaces, has so many benefits for our mental and physical health.

Tending to a garden is great exercise. The movements you make mimic whole-body exercise. You squat, you lunge, you carry heavy bags. Digging, raking and using a push mower are physically intense activities that burn as many calories as a workout in the gym, as well as strengthening your balance, strength and flexibility.

Activities like carrying planters, mulch, or soil, digging holes, stretching to reach weeds, pushing the mower activity engage every muscle in your body. If you aren’t used to these types of activities, you’ll probably feel it the next day. So it’s best to start with small steps and build up to a more active day. And after all that work in your garden, you may sleep better.

If moving around in the garden is a challenge for you, think of what you could to do modify your activities. Use a small stool or raised garden beds if you have back pain. Support your knees when you squat. Buy smaller bags of mulch or soil easier to carry.

Gardening offers relief from stress. The routines of gardening, like watering and weeding, create a calming pattern.

Exercise reduces stress, so does gardening. It’s been shown to lighten mood and lower levels of stress and anxiety. It’s gratifying to plant, tend, harvest and share your own food. After a long day or week at work, doing the mindless tasks of a garden provides the opportunity to slow down, plan things or work out a problem.

It’s not just the act of gardening that has so many benefits; the bacteria in the soil may also help combat stress. A recent discov-ery by the University of Colorado found that a bacterium that lives in soil makes a fatty acid that promotes resilience to stress. The same bacteria have been noted to act like an antidepressant and establish a strong immune system as well.

Gardening is not just a physical workout. It’s also good for your brain, especially as protection against the onset of dementia. Gardening boosts cognitive function; one study found it could lead to a 36% lower risk of dementia.

Being outside is good for our physical and mental health, another benefit of gardening. We tend to breathe deeper when we’re outside. This helps to clear out the lungs, improves digestion, improves immune response and increases oxygen levels in our blood.

Spending time outdoors has been shown to reduce heart rate and muscle tension. Sunlight lowers blood pressure and increases vitamin D levels. As Jacobs said, simply being in nature is good for your wellbeing. It will boost your mood, increase your optimism, and has been linked to fighting depression and other mental illnesses.

Another benefit is that gardening brings people together and strengthens social connections. Social connections are important because they help lower stress, improve resilience and provide support during difficult times in life. This may simply mean interacting with staff at a local gardening center before you dig into your home garden, or interacting with others online.

Tips for starting out: Start small. The larger the garden, the more work it is, the more stressful. It can quickly overwhelm you if you don’t have enough resources or time to care for it. You can always increase the size of your garden in the future. Find plants that grow well in your climate or hardiness zone. Talk with local master gardeners who can be located online.