After a long (loooong loooong) winter, spring has finally arrived, and, after the rain, once the sun starts showing up and temperatures rise, we come out of hibernation. It’s usually around this time that we tend to become more health conscious – it’s when we lace up our shoes to go biking, walking, running, or spend quality time with the kids playing soccer or basketball.  It’s also around this time we tend to eat healthier, swapping warm comfort foods for salads and lattes for green smoothies.

But have you ever considered gardening as an outdoor activity to boost your health in the spring and summer months?  Believe it or not, gardening is a great way to spend time in nature, increase physical exercise and promote mental health.  

Let’s dig into (haha pun intended) 7 surprising health benefits of gardening

You don’t even need a green thumb (I promise),

#1  Nutrient-Rich Fruits and Vegetables

Consider starting a vegetable garden.  Not only is fresh produce delicious, it’s much healthier for you as well.  Vegetables from your own backyard is free from chemical pesticides and radiation.  You’ll also benefit from the nutrients that accumulate in foods being picked at their peak instead of buying produce in stores that are picked unripe and aren’t as nutrient rich.  Did I mention that fresh fruits and vegetables are reaaallly tasty? Because they are!

#2:  Boosts Physical Activity

Gardening provides a full body workout.  Think about it – we’re moving around, lifting, squatting, digging, weeding, and watering, using the entire body.  Plus, it’s exercise you can do right in your backyard, making it super convenient.

#3:  Supports Gut Health

Don’t be afraid of dirt.  Dirt is your friend! As a society, we’ve become so obsessed with over sanitation, that we’re actually missing out on natural opportunities to support our gut health with beneficial bacteria.  One of the best ways to get exposure is through gardening. Your garden is full of bacteria, and that’s a good thing. Soil based organisms (SBOs) help regulate the immune system, naturally reduce inflammation in the gut, and have been linked to treating a wide variety of health conditions including:  IBS, indigestion, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, and asthma.

Gut health is also vital for overall health, so get your hands dirty!

#4:  Connection

Gardening can bring a wonderful connection between families, neighbours and communities.  Whether it’s standing in my parents’ yard exchanging gardening tips with my mother, picking fresh raspberries with the kids from my in-laws garden, or even complaining about husbands who rip plants out of the ground thinking they were weeds (*sigh), we’re interacting and connecting through gardening.  

We’ve lived in various neighbourhoods and there is one thing that I’ve always loved about each one – neighbours who proudly share fresh herbs or vegetables with us. Connection is when a neighbour hands over some juicy tomatoes over the fence. Connection is when you’re stopped by a friendly elderly neighbour while on a family walk, who is eager to talk about herbs in his yard, and how they’re similar (or different) to the ones thriving in his native country.  Connecting, and being socially active promotes happiness and is vital for our mental and physical health.

#5:  Vitamin D

Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine” vitamin because our bodies are able to make it when we’re exposed to sufficient sunlight.  Your body needs vitamin D for a number of reasons – you may already know the important role it plays in bone health, but did you know that it’s also important for immune function and weight management? Vitamin D deficiencies have also been linked to autoimmune disorders, heart disease and even breast cancer,

You might also be surprised to learn that vitamin D deficiencies are very common and can be problematic.  Many of us spend most of our time indoors, and when we are outside, we’re in the shade, or covering up with sunscreen or clothing that doesn’t allow for much exposure at all.  While these are all safe measures to prevent excessive exposure and sunburn, you may not be meeting your daily vitamin D needs. 20 minutes in the sun without sunscreen is recommended, so get out there and get your vitamin D on!

 

#6:  Good for Kids

Gardening is a fantastic activity for the kids.  It teaches them responsibility, and provides an opportunity to reconnect with nature. Also, studies have shown that kids who participate in gardening and food preparation are more likely to try new and nutritious foods.  Our garden becomes a buffet actually. My kids will pick and eat mulberries off our tree in the backyard, but I can guarantee that if I were to buy some in a store, they wouldn’t touch it. Cherry tomatoes are eaten the moment they’re ready, and our daughter Emily will actually rip lettuce out of the ground and eat it – but will rarely touch lettuce if I were to put it on her dinner place.  Gardens are magic, that’s all I’m saying!

If they’re old enough, consider giving them their own area of the garden to look after, or their own tomato plant, or a strawberry hanging basket to look after.  We try to make gardening fun with a trip to Dollarama, to let them choose their own tools, and fun decor like frogs and gnomes for their space. They can collect rocks to put down as a border for their garden.  Let everyone’s imaginations go wild!

#7:  Stress Relief

Now I know some of you are reading this and wondering how gardening can actually be a stress reliever (just the thought of all that work sounds overwhelming, I get it).  Think of the benefits though – you’re outside, in the sun, breathing fresh air, connecting with nature. That’s a stress reliever in itself. Plus, being surrounded by nature, and having your own space for relaxing, slowing down, contemplating or meditation can be a haven from stress.  

Gardening can also spark creativity which can be a huge stress reliever for those who enjoy expressing themselves creatively.  You can mix colours, styles, and get imaginative with DIY garden projects or with a palette of plants

How to get started

Some people really enjoy gardening, and some don’t.  If you don’t, consider a very small project that isn’t overwhelming – a small raised garden bed with herbs and lettuce, or buying tomatoes or strawberries in planters can still be beneficial for your health.  Of course if you really hate it, consider another activity or hobby that you’re really into (no biggie)!

Consider the space you have to work with, and the amount of time and money you can devote to gardening.  If you’re starting out, start small. It can be a little intimidating at first, but you can ask family, friends, neighbours, or check out the numerous resources online.  Head over to Pinterest for inspiration or for some great ideas and gardening hacks

You don’t have to have a huge backyard, or a green thumb to get started.  Personally, I’ve killed many plants but keep going anyways, because each time I fail, is an opportunity to learn.  Just go for it – get outside, get your hands dirty, connect with neighbours and enjoy

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