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10 Unexpected Physical and Mental Benefits of Gardening

If you’re new to gardening or haven’t even tried it yet, you may be surprised at all the wonderful benefits it brings, both physical and mental. There’s a reason this hobby is so popular around the entire world. Here’s a look at ten reasons why you should consider rolling up your sleeves and putting your hands in the earth.

1. Reap the Benefits of Being Outdoors

Outdoors

Outdoor. Photo by Bob Mical

When you spend time in the outdoors it has physical benefits that cross over into mental ones. Mens sana in corpore sano, is the Latin way of saying your psychological and bodily health are intertwined.

One of the best examples of this is the body’s manufacturing of vitamin D from spending time in the sun. While your body needs vitamin D for a host of physical functions, this nutrient also affects mood. Have you ever noticed how much more relaxed and cheerful you feel after a day at the beach? You may get the same happiness by spending an afternoon in your yard.

2. Live in Harmony with Nature

Nature

Nature. Photo by Elisa Bracco

It’s no secret that “Blue Zones,” places on earth where people live the longest, are those where they live close to nature in largely agrarian societies. Our urban way of life fights nature at every turn, and gardening gives you a way to counter that.

When you get into the groove of growing your own flowers, vegetables and trees, you start to live more in sync with the rhythms of nature. You notice and feel the rise and fall of the sun, the phases of the moon and the changing of the seasons more acutely. This is how humans are supposed to live. If you pay attention to the temporal call of nature, you may find yourself sleeping better and not struggling to wake up every morning.

3. Get a Great Stretch

Stretch

Stretch. Photo by Donald

Worried you’ll miss an afternoon at the gym by spending time in your garden? Don’t despair–gardening can be a good workout too. Instead of kneeling to get at those flower beds (which can be hard on the knees anyway), you can bend from the waist, giving your hamstrings a good stretch. Your upper body will gain flexibility too, if you reach for limbs to prune and forgo a stool or ladder whenever possible.

4. Build Strength

One reason those agrarian cultures stay so healthy is that gardening builds strength. It takes a lot of work to till, hoe, weed and shovel, which burns calories and builds muscle. And when you have muscle mass, you burn even more calories just maintaining it. You’ll also sweat more, which is the best way to rid your body of toxins and unneeded chemicals.

5. Indulge in Meditative Moments

Meditation

Meditaion. Photo by Sebastien Wiertz

There are times when gardening calls for repetitive tasks, whether deadheading perennial blooms or picking raspberries. These are perfect moments to let yourself slip into a meditative state, where you release tension and simply focus on the present moment. You’ll find without even consciously thinking about your problems, you somehow come up with new and creative solutions for them.

While purposely multitasking is actually often counterproductive, meditating while you garden can be wonderfully freeing. If you have a hard time adding meditation to your schedule or don’t feel like you know how to do it “right,” try giving gardening a whirl. You may wind up meditating without even knowing you’re doing it.

6. Grow Your Own Food

Food

Organic Food. Photo by Cheryl

Who wouldn’t want to walk out the back door and grab all the ingredients for a delicious meal? When you garden you can grow your own fruits, vegetables, herbs and even edible flowers. You control the quality of the soil and water and can grow everything organically if you want, with no pesticides or herbicides, which is much healthier for you.

Organic produce is especially beneficial with plants where you eat the skin, such as potatoes, tomatoes and berries. On the commercial level, it can sometimes cost more to grow organically, which is why these products are more expensive at the market. But at home, you can actually save money by doing away with chemicals and raising organic crops.

You’ll always have something available to eat, from springtime lettuce to autumn squash, and you can send your dinner guests home with a bag of your garden’s bounty–a perfect dinner party goody bag. Plus, you’ll have fresh flowers available to decorate the table.

7. See Nature Close Up

Close up

Close up. Photo by Arend Jan Wonink

Biologist Louis Agassiz once said, “I spent the summer traveling. I got halfway across my backyard.” When you spend time sitting in once place, as you do to plant a row of ground cover or weed a small flower patch, you really get to observe what’s going on there on a minute level.

You’ll see incredibly intricate spider webs, insects so organized they make a Swiss train station look sloppy and the subtle glimmer of minerals on rocks that have been in your yard for millions of years. Most of us are normally too busy with our hectic, car-oriented lives to notice these things.

8. Get Away from the TV

Two Birds

Two Birds. Photo by Diego Cambiaso

There’s nothing wrong with television on a cold rainy night or sub-zero winter day. But on a beautiful mid-June day or a fall afternoon with the leaves ablaze? There are better things to look at outside.

While you’re quietly tending to your garden, you’ll see things you never knew were in your area, like deer and migrating birds or butterflies in an array of colors. You’ll watch the thousands of previously invisible insects caught like little jewels in the slant of the late afternoon sun. Dragonflies will flit about like mini helicopters, and lightning bugs will appear out of nowhere as the gentle summer dusk descends.

There’s a whole world outside, and you’ve been missing it by being glued to your TV. Put the game on your DVR or listen to it old-style on the radio while you put in your summer crop of peppers or rake autumn’s last hint of your maple trees. You may lengthen your lifespan, and you’ll certainly become less sedentary and reduce opportunities for mindless eating.

9. Enjoy Immediate and Long-term Gratification

Gardening is one of those pursuits that lends itself well to both immediate gratification and long-term rewards. You may have to wait an entire season to see the pumpkin seeds you planted sprout blossoms and grow into future Jack O’Lanterns, but you can reap the satisfaction of a neatly hoed row of carrots right away.

Some other great short-term ways to pat yourself on the back

  • mowing the lawn
  • putting down bags of mulch
  • planting a young tree
  • weeding your flowerbeds
  • adding mini hardscaping elements, such as a fire pit or bird bath
  • adding pots to your container garden
Lawn

Lawn. Photo by sean hobson

Those elements of your garden that take longer to come to fruition (pun intended) will bring great pleasure too. When you sit back and enjoy your flower borders months, or even years, after you’ve toiled on them, you’ll have a different kind of reward that is equally gratifying. Gardening definitely encourages patience.

10. Teach Kids About the Earth

Earth

Earth. Photo by cori kindred

If you have children in your life, whether your kids, grandkids or students in the classroom, gardening is an ideal way to teach them about the earth. Kids can read all they want about things in books, but when they see and experience them in real life, the lessons tend to stick better.

When you include kids in all the benefits of gardening outlined above, they learn healthy habits before bad ones, which gets them off to a good start in life. Even if you don’t have a big plot of land, a row of herbs on the windowsill or a vine of tomatoes on the deck can teach children about the art and science of gardening.

An ideal way to see the great benefits of gardening you learn over time is to keep a gardening journal. Everyone gets something different out of their experience with plants, and you may come up with your own list of top ten rewards. However your list of benefits turns out, your life will change in many amazing ways through gardening.

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