By Steve Zimmerman
Happy New Year’s, Adam County. It’s always a nice feeling to be validated; several research articles I read recently did just that for me. I have always believed that gardening and spending time outdoors can be great “for what ails ya.” The articles I read were about research conducted in the Netherlands, University of Colorado, and the University of Illinois.
The articles supported the theory that as little as 30 minutes of outdoor activity or “green exercises” can have a measurable, positive effect on one’s mood, attitude, and even self-esteem. The “green exercises” most mentioned were cycling, walking, and, of course, gardening!
One study supported the findings that gardening helps to provide measurable improvements for those diagnosed with depression. Gardening has been shown to reduce stress; after completing a stressful task, two groups of people were instructed to either read indoors or garden for 30 minutes. The group that gardened reported being in a better mood than the indoor readers. The gardening group also had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. As one researcher strongly stated, “Put down the BlackBerry and plant, pick, or trim your blueberries.”
Two separate studies followed people in their 60s and 70s for 16 years. They found that those who gardened regularly had a 40 percent lower risk of dementia than nongardeners. These are just a few of the psychological benefits of gardening; there are also a great many physical benefits derived from this awesome activity.
Gardening can be a beneficial physical workout if approached properly. It offers all three types of exercise: endurance, flexibility, and strength. Research has confirmed that gardening for just 30 minutes a day will help increase flexibility, strengthen joints, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of diabetes, and slow osteoporosis. Gardening, combined with proper diet, can also result in weight loss.
As mentioned, gardening as a form of exercise is only beneficial if properly approached. Just like an aerobics class, cycling, or a visit to the gym, gardening should begin with a warm-up and stretching in order to prevent injury. It is recommended that you stretch for at least 10 minutes before you begin gardening. To maximize gardening as exercise, do a different task every 15 minutes in order to use a wider range of motion and more muscle groups. For example, do some hand mowing for 15 minutes then switch to raking and then back to mowing again. Always remember to bend from your knees and use your legs: do not bend from your back as you rake or hoe. Also, alternate your stance between right and left handed to balance muscle use.
Gardening is an activity that is healthy and positive for both young and old. It is something that parents and grandparents can enjoy with their children and grandchildren. If we want to cultivate the next generation
of gardeners, we should work with them to put down the cell phones and show them the physical and psychological benefits of a garden well tended. It appears the benefits of gardening go beyond fresh vegetables, flowers, and curb appeal for our home. Happy gardening!
Steve and Laurie Zimmerman have owned and operated Zimmerman’s Azalea Gardens and Landscaping in Adams County since 1992. Visit their website at www.zaglandscaping.com.