Apr 162012
 

When I feel blue, or need a distraction from the stresses of life, I head into the garden! Time slows and my mood becomes lighter when my fingers are in the dirt and the intricacies of the world beyond my back door come to life before my eyes. There are many health benefits to be had from gardening. Here are a few of my favourites…

The Sun

The sun does a great job of warming up humans. My house can be chilly but once I venture outside and feel the warm sunrays on my back, I thaw out. It’s also a source of vitamin D (also found in some foods), which encourages the absorption and metabolism of calcium and phosphorous in our bodies. It helps to maintain healthy bones, and regulates and strengthens the immune system.

For most people, adequate vitamin D levels are reached (without wearing sunscreen) through regular daily activity and incidental exposure to the sun; though to avoid the most harmful UV rays, exposure is recommended before 10am or after 3pm. In winter we may need more exposure to reach a good level. Pulling weeds or giving the garden a drink is a good chance to catch some valuable rays.

Get Physical

A casual stroll around your patch to check on how your goodies are growing is a lovely way to stretch the legs. Gardening is also a top way to exercise. You can pretty much design a workout just by doing some tasks in the yard! Try lifting pots (for strength); stretching to pull out a weed (for flexibility); reaching up or squatting down to check for pests (for mobility); digging, watering, planting, mulching, pruning, turning compost, raking, mowing, sowing and harvesting (for endurance)!

You really know you’ve exerted energy when you can wipe the sweat from your brow, stand back while you stretch your back and arms, and admire your hard work in the garden. It’s very rewarding!

Relax

The birds chirping in the trees, a soft breeze blowing past your face, the smell of flowers, and ladybugs dancing on the leaves – sounds like a relaxing day in the garden! When we turn off the appliances and tune out of the buzz, and tune into the outdoors, we can let our mind breathe. Even just for half an hour, being in a garden is great relaxation. Observing a butterfly’s path across the treetops; the textures of different foliage, flowers, and fruit; a worm’s journey into the dirt; a frog’s peaceful rest on a log; birds supping on nectar; the grace of leaves nodding in the breeze, are all things to help you slip into a relaxed state.

Gardening puts you in touch with the earth’s cycles, its rhythms, and its purpose. Allowing your mind to let go and feel a part of something bigger than yourself, is freeing. Some people achieve this when they do things like surfing, meditation, bushwalking or camping. When you put yourself among flora and fauna, it’s easier to let go of tension and everyday worries. Maybe the extra oxygen in your nostrils helps clear the mind! Designing and implementing a garden is also mentally rewarding: a sense of empowerment and self esteem can result when one can create and control the environment.

Connect

Gardening with other people is a fantastic way to connect and interact. Starting a community garden or joining an existing one is an opportunity to make new friends, swap knowledge and information, and enjoy other like-minded people’s company. Not to mention being able to share and eat the fruits of your labour!

Helping out in a friend’s garden, or giving a family member or neighbour a hand is a valuable and wonderful gesture. Sharing and swapping cuttings, seeds and seedlings creates a rich network of shared resources, and provides an opportunity for those new to gardening to learn some tricks and tips! It’s also a lovely way to hand down traditions and knowledge to future generations.

Getting children involved in your garden is a great way for them to exercise, and learn about and appreciate plants and the cycle of growing! A playgroup (for younger children) focused in the garden is a lovely setting for catching up with other parents and carers. A safe garden that needs a bit of weeding or planting is a good space for kids to get outdoors and get dirty, and learn about teamwork and sharing. Giving kids little tasks to carry out really helps them foster a sense of achievement and pride in their work. The old adage ‘many hands make light work’ also applies here; compare a morning’s work in the garden on your own, with a morning when five mates and their kids lend a hand. The results are usually very impressive!

Produce gardening with kids also gives them an appreciation and experience with where their food comes from, and how.

Growing Your Own

How many times have you heard someone say “it tastes better from my garden!”? Perhaps we can taste the satisfaction when we chew on a bean from our own trellis, as opposed to something that’s probably been in a truck or cold storage for a period of time before it even gets to the supermarket shelf. The reward of knowing you’ve produced something in your own patch of dirt makes home-grown produce sweeter. Apart from being cheaper, more sustainable and better for the environment, growing at least a portion of your own food gives you a better understanding of what you eat. You also gain a real appreciation for seasons, and weather! Mother Earth is a great teacher.

Happy gardening!

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