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Get a Little Dirt Under Your Fingernails

Much has been written about the health benefits of gardening, and I could cite plenty of research, but instead I’m going to share the reasons why gardening is an important part of my health regimen.

Time slows down in the garden and I feel peaceful and relaxed. All my senses are engaged in the garden: I feel the sun on my face, listen to the birds trill their song, enjoy the breath of wind that carries the sweet fragrance of a beloved flower, sink my fingers into the soft soil, am distracted by the butterfly as it sails through the sky, and my eyes drink in the colors and textures of the flowers, grass and shrubs.

True, gardening doesn’t offer a cardiovascular workout, but it does build muscle and burn calories. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) one hour of light gardening burns 330 calories and being out in the sunshine increases vitamin D which I need to keep my bones strong. I’m always surprised by the muscles that “speak to me” after gardening in the early days of the season. So, I take it slow and build my endurance; “no pain, no gain” is not the mantra in gardening.

Speaking of mantras, I’ve read about the mental and physical benefits of meditation, but I can’t sit still long enough to reach Nirvana so I head out to the garden. Many gardening chores are repetitive and I’m alone with my thoughts, so I find it easy to slip into a meditative state; I’ve had many breakthroughs and creative thoughts after being in the garden.

Nurturing plants is one way that I measure my power to create positive change in the world and know that I can make a difference. Faith, hope and a prayer are cultivated every time I plant a seed. It’s no coincidence that horticultural therapy has become popular in hospitals, nursing homes and prisons.

Growing some of my own food and being a steward of the land is empowering, exhilarating and humbling. I especially enjoying growing herbs for their health benefits, using them in cooking to lend flavor and to make herbal medicines.

Creating a beautiful garden gives me a sense of accomplishment and pride. Beautiful places feed my soul, gives me inspiration and sustains me; without beauty life would be dull indeed.

I believe that the pillars of a healthy lifestyle include not only physical activity, but also stress management, sleep and nutrition and gardening helps me reach these goals.

If my particular reasons for gardening don’t resonate with you, then check out the many studies that confirm that gardening lowers blood pressure, reduces anxiety and depression, speeds recovery from injury, surgery and stroke, reduces stress, and can lead to a reduction in pain medication. It also can help with balance, increase flexibility and dexterity, and even increase brain function if you practice gardening with your non-dominant hand.

Or follow my lead and get out there and get a little dirt under your fingernails – it’s good for you!

“In all the recipes for happiness I have ever seen “something to look forward to” has been given as an important ingredient. How rich the gardener is in this particular integrant. For always s(he) looks forward to something if only the appearance of the red noses of the peonies in spring or the sharp aromas that fill the air in autumn after the frost has touched the herbage.”

Louise Beebe Wilder (1887-1938) “America’s Gertrude Jekyll”

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