Ask any gardener, and they'll tell you, gardening is its own reward. You get to spend beautiful hours outdoors, and this happy labor results in something lovely to look at and charming to relax in. Some are even delicious to eat. But our scientific age has added hard data to the common-sense folk wisdom that gardening is good for you. Research has yielded specific ways gardening can boost your health.
The Sunshine Vitamin
Florida is blessed with ample sunshine. But to reap the benefits to your bones and immune system that the sun’s vitamin D provides, you have to get outside. Not everyone has a sandy beach outside the door. But lots of folks have easy access to a plot of dirt — either at home or through a community garden. Gardening is a fun way to get a dose of this critical vitamin.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 2.5 hours a week of moderate-level intensity exercise. Exercise reduces the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis. Studies also found gardening reduces the likelihood of developing dementia, heart disease, stroke, depression, colon cancer and premature death. It's easy to spend 2.5 hours in the garden. Maybe that's why gardeners tend to exercise 40-50 minutes longer than people who walk or ride bikes. And an hour of light gardening or yardwork can burn up to 330 calories. With an added plus, technically, you aren’t exercising, you’re just amusing yourself.
Boosting Mental Health and Building Community
Some say you can’t have one without the other. But gardening addresses mental and social health in at least two ways. One study found the bacterium in soil is better than Prozac when it comes to boosting serotonin and endorphin levels, in addition to providing the mood-elevating benefits of exercise. Better yet, while you can garden alone, you don’t have to. Community gardens aren’t just for people with green thumbs. They provide a way for people to get together. It's also a way to help others by exchanging information or producing food to share with green food banks. The American Community Gardening Association can help you find or start a garden in your neighborhood. You get to eat the fruits of your labor!
Gardening in Miami
Keep in mind that gardening in the Miami area has its special challenges. It can be awfully hot and humid out there. But that heat zone and moist, tropical climate just extends our growing season, making it possible to grow fresh produce year-round. Good gardening practice involves plenty of hydration and taking breaks when temperatures rise. And even though you want the benefits of vitamin D, enjoy it in moderation. Wear sunscreen and a hat! It also helps to plant the right things at the right time. Fortunately, the extension service at the University of Florida publishes an excellent month-by-month calendar to help you make the best decisions for your South Florida garden.
Rachel Baihn is a avid gardner, both indoors and in her backyard.