While the headline might lead one to think this is a column on organic vegetable gardening, the actual topic is how gardening – as an activity – improves health. Aerobic exercise, improved mobility, stress reduction – there are many benefits to spending time in the garden, whether growing vegetables or flowers.

Exercise is an important pillar of health. While some might pay a monthly fee to work out at a fitness center, a better option might be to step out to the garden and get the same benefit for free!

OK, maybe not for free once we add up plant purchases, loads of mulch, etc. Still, the only people who think gardening is not exercise have never worked in a garden.

The most recent guidelines on physical activity from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend that adults have at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week plus muscle-strengthening exercise.

Most gardening activities fall under the category of moderate physical activity. Deadheading annuals and perennials, pulling weeds, pruning shrubs and trees, and spreading mulch are all good ways to work up a respectable sweat, even when the temperatures are not in the 90s.

A task strenuous enough to leave a gardener slightly winded has cardiovascular benefits.

Research on occupational therapy at Western Michigan University suggests weight-bearing gardening activities – such as raking and digging – can increase bone density.

While exercise is good for physical health, another important benefit of gardening is what it can do for mental health and stress reduction. Studies have shown time spent in green spaces can reduce levels of stress, decrease cortisol and lower blood pressure. Spending time in nature can improve mood and reduce both anxiety and symptoms of depression.

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For those of us who get stuck in their heads (I can neither confirm nor deny), gardening can be a way out. Thoughts of what bills are due, why a family member is behaving badly or how to deal with a problem co-worker can slip away when focused on something green and growing.

That includes weeds, which are green (for the most part) and right now are growing. So, pull that weed and enjoy the cathartic effect. Or just soak up the beauty of nature and allow it to help you feel better.

I’m not a doctor, but if I played one on TV, that might be the prescription I’d write.

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Mari Lane Gewecke is a Master Gardener volunteer, affiliated with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus program, and a self-employed consultant.



L Magazine editor

Mark Schwaninger is L magazine and Neighborhood Extra editor.

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