Garden Vegetables

Photo by dumbonyc (Flickr)

Americans spend more than $60 billion a year trying to stay fit, stay healthy, and lose weight. Whether it’s through exercise or diet crazes, one thing is clear: We all are looking for ways to look and feel better. Nearly 15% of us have gym memberships, although only 8% of us use them. So with all of this effort towards good health, why is there an obesity problem? Much of it can be traced to the food we are eating and the change in lifestyle of Americans over the past 100 years. And while there is no one solution, gardening can be the answer to many health concerns.

Low-Impact Exercise

Much of America used to live by the sweat of their brow, living off of the land and harvesting the bounty of natural resources this country offered. And many of those who had more labor-free jobs still had gardens back home where vegetables were grown. But we have turned into a society of convenience. Why grow your own food when you can run to the store on your way home from work and pick up dinner that is ready to eat? Well, one answer is exercise.

Gardening is one of the best exercises you can do because you’re constantly getting up and down, lifting, stretching, carrying, digging, pruning, twisting, reaching, and bending. Most of the gardening chores all are done with little or no weight so the impact to your joints is minimal. And if anyone has weeded lately, you know that the most of the motions are repetitive. All of this tones muscle, strengthens bones, improves balance, increases flexibility, and burns calories. Studies have shown that you are burning 300 to 600 calories an hour while you tend to your garden.

Healthy Food

The other reason that a microwave dinner is not a good choice is the ingredients contained in processed foods. Two words… not good! Common sense tells us that eating natural foods is what are bodies were designed for. The stuff we buy at the grocery store is far from natural, usually lacks the nutrients and flavor of fresh fruits and vegetables grown in the home garden, and has so many harmful additives that it is a wonder we ingest it at all. Growing your own produce ensures that chemicals were not used and the nutritional value will be at its highest. There is nothing like a tomato picked right off of the plant.

Mental Health

The mental healing effects of gardening have also been well-documented, and a whole discipline has been built around it called horticultural therapy. Gardens are being built at nursing homes, prisons, and hospitals to help calm and heal residents. Some gardening chores, such as deadheading, take little thinking and put the gardener into a meditative state, allowing them to clear their mind, while other tasks keep them focused. Gardening has been shown to help with depression, Alzheimer’s, and reducing stress.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D has been shown to be an extremely important vitamin that is lacking in Americans as the workforce has moved indoors to offices and children are glued to their video games. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, vitamin D is essential for the “formation, growth, and repair of bones and for normal calcium absorption and immune function.” Just ten minutes a day in the garden in a T-shirt and shorts will give you the vitamin D your body needs.

Simply put, gardening is a low-cost solution to better health. You can shed those unwanted pounds, tone your muscles, and find some peace of mind while saving money on your grocery bill. It is a wonder why more people don’t garden.

Michael O’Loughlin is an OSU Wildlife Steward and Master Gardener. He was presented with the Horticulture Award by the Oregon State Federation of Garden Clubs in 2008 and given lifetime membership. He was also presented with the Tree Steward Award by the city of Tigard, Oregon. When he is not producing home and garden shows or testing gardening products, he is volunteering at school gardens. You can follow him on Twitter @molfamily.