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Gardening for the pandemic soul
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Gardening for the pandemic soul

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The COVID garden. In spring last year, people began to plant gardens in droves, many of whom had never expressed an interest in gardening before the pandemic took root – pardon the pun. Food insecurity fears and pandemic-induced boredom seemed the main drivers, but whatever the reasons, nurseries soon ran short of seeds and plants, and enrollment in gardening classes boomed. We started digging in the dirt and were rewarded with more than fresh, healthy produce.

Salve for the pandemic weary. Of course, there is the obvious health benefit derived from incorporating fresh produce into one’s diet. But there’s more. Psychologists who have studied the effects of gardening on people's well-being have found that it can help boost your mood and calm worries. A 2016 study published in Preventative Medicine Reports found “robust evidence” for the positive effects of gardening on health, saying gardening can “improve physical, psychological and social health, which can, from a long-term perspective, alleviate and prevent various health issues facing today's society.”

Gardening for the brain. According to the national Head Start Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center, gardening for children supports holistic learning, improving communication, cognition skills and social-emotional development. A six-year study in Spain also found students who attended schools with garden programs had higher math, reading and science scores on standardized tests.

Lincoln Public Schools recognizes the benefits of gardening for kids, saying that school gardens “build on educational and nutritional proficiency, while the community benefits from potential access to fresh produce and interaction with the local youth.” Over 25 schools have had outdoor gardens. Others also incorporated indoor “tower gardens” that can grow produce year round. The towers and the outdoor gardens give kids the hands-on opportunity to learn about the science of growing, while also providing fresh air, exercise and good nutrition.

Learn more at home.lps.org/sustainability/gardens. A collaboration between Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln (PHL) and the Lincoln Community Learning Centers also lets kids regularly taste fresh garden and farm produce through their “Harvest of the Month” program. Learn more about PHL’s school wellness programs at healthylincoln.org.

But it’s not just kids who benefit from gardening. Gardening boosts cognitive function in adults and seniors as well, and one study found it could lead to a 36% lower risk of dementia.

It counts as exercise. For kids, gardening improves perceptual, motor and physical development. For adults, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) categorizes gardening as moderate physical activity and notes that it can burn “more than 300 calories an hour, about the same as golfing while walking and carrying clubs. More substantial yard work, like chopping wood or hauling heavy mulch bags, burns more than 400 calories.” One study suggests gardening may help offset age-related weight gain. There are other tangible physical benefits, too, like enhancing dexterity and hand strength.

Getting started. You don’t need a big backyard to plant a garden. In fact, you can have great garden produce using containers. The LNKTV Health YouTube channel has a treasure trove of gardening videos, including the “Mowing to Growing” series. See its "Garden Fresh" playlist. You can also find gardening-related classes and educational resources from Nebraska Extension at lancaster.unl.edu/yard-garden. For more gardening classes or if are interested in starting a garden at your church, business or shared neighborhood space, contact Community Crops at communitycrops.org.

Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln (HealthyLincoln.org) and LNKTV Health (LNKTVhealth.lincoln.ne.gov) bring you Health and the City, a monthly column that examines relevant community health issues and spotlights the local organizations that impact community wellness. Direct any questions or comments to jpearsonanderson@healthylincoln.org.

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