How are your vitamin D levels? Could you benefit from a mood boost? What about a break from stress and anxiety? Maybe it’s time to put your hands in the dirt and grow some plants.
National Gardening Day is April 14. It’s the perfect reminder that spring is here—and with that comes new ways to support your health, like by keeping a garden.
You may wonder why you should go to all the trouble of growing your own plants when it's easier, faster, and often cheaper to buy from the supermarket. The answer is simple: gardening is good for you—and it’s good for the world in which we live.
Gardens build strong, healthy bodies
Even before you start harvesting and eating the fresh produce you have planted, the action of gardening is already making you healthier. Working in a garden generally guarantees you will be spending time outdoors, helping you soak up the UV-B rays from the sun that can generate vitamin D.
Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, boosts our immune system and helps regulate flow of insulin, keeping our bodies metabolically healthy. It also works to strengthen our bones and teeth by impacting the growth of calcium in our bodies.
Even better, it’s free. Our bodies make vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Despite this free resource, however, over 40% of Americans have a vitamin D deficiency. Gardening is just one way to help boost the body’s vitamin D production.
It’s not only the sunshine from gardening that helps strengthen our bodies. All the healthy weight-bearing exercises involved in caring for plants help build strong bones and a strong heart. Gardening has cognitive benefits as well.
Gardening reduces occasional stress
Work in the garden inspires mindfulness and meditation. It has also been documented to reduce cortisol levels. Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, is a vital response our body has to dangerous or difficult situations—think fight or flight. While cortisol release is helpful at the right moments, too much cortisol can unnecessarily tax our bodies. Chronically high amounts of cortisol can endlessly spike our blood sugar, putting us at risk for becoming insulin resistant.
If you aren’t up to the labor of gardening but could benefit from some stress relief, try just sitting in a garden. One study found sitting in the hospital garden reduced stress and prevented burnout among the medical staff.
Gardens are good for the planet
When you plant a garden, you are not only creating a much-needed habitat for bees and other critical pollinators, you are also powering a healthy environment. Plants pull carbon dioxide from the air while also producing oxygen. They work to remove chemicals and bacteria from the air, creating a cleaner, healthier atmosphere. Below the surface, plants’ roots clean the soil, eliminating chemicals. Their roots also protect topsoils from heavy rains and runoff, preventing erosion and soil depletion.
Plus, growing your food reduces your trips to the store, saving you time and money. It also reduces the energy, time, and money spent bringing food to the store, often transported from halfway around the world.
Gardens improve our access to fresh food
When you grow your food, you don’t need to worry about additives, preservatives, or pesticides; you can be sure it is safe and healthy. You can harvest and eat your produce at peak freshness, maximizing the flavor, vitamins, and nutrients. All around, gardeners eat more fruits and vegetables. Fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs are packed with essential vitamins and nutrients that fuel good health.
If you’re looking for ideas, here are a few foods and herbs that are commonly grown at home:
Raspberries, broccoli, and oregano: High in fiber, which helps support the digestive system.
Tomatoes, thyme, and bell peppers: High in vitamin C, which is critical in fighting off infections and healing wounds.
Spinach, parsley, and beans: Rich with iron, which supports healthy blood and a healthy brain.
Gardening can make you happier
Spending time in nature is profoundly beneficial to us as humans. Yet it’s not always possible or practical to walk in the forest or ride a bike in the mountains. A small garden or community plot can give you a chance to escape from the bustle of modernity and enjoy being in nature. Also, scientists have found putting your hands in dirt can raise your serotonin levels, increasing your feeling of well-being and happiness.
In her book The Well-Gardened Mind, psychotherapist Sue Stuart-Smith writes, “When we sow a seed, we plant a narrative of future possibility.” Gardens offer the possibility of new life and a brighter future. Even without a large acreage or garden plot, a few potted plants on a balcony or near a sunny window can offer the chance to put our hands in the dirt and sow new possibilities.
Community gardens fight food insecurity
Gardens are powerful not only because they can make us healthier, but also because they can tackle challenging socioeconomic problems head-on. Locally grown produce in community and school gardens fights poor nutrition and food insecurity.
Supporting garden projects is an essential element of the Unicity Make Life Better Foundation. Recently, the foundation sent a grant to Panama to build a bio-intensive school garden in a rural area.
The garden will grow over 60 different types of produce, such as tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, peppers, cucumber, corn, pumpkin, broccoli, and eggplant. They will also have egg-laying hens in the garden to provide a fresh source of protein. Children in the area and their parents will work together to take care of the crops, and the produce will be used in the school lunches—improving nutrition, development, and ability to learn.
Whether you plant a garden in your backyard or keep a pot of basil in your kitchen, nurturing plants can inspire us toward good health and new possibilities.