Health

Be well: Start a garden and reap the health benefits

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Spending time in the great outdoors has long been linked to greater health and wellness, many studies have shown — and cultivating a green thumb can grow those benefits even more.

“Gardening goes beyond just beautifying outdoor spaces — it can have a profound impact on our physical and mental well-being,” Brian Clayton, CEO and co-founder of the online lawn care company GreenPal in Nashville, Tennessee, told Fox News Digital via email.

Gardening involves physical activity that works all the major muscle groups, which is beneficial for overall health.

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“Activities such as digging, planting, weeding and harvesting require movement and can contribute to improved cardiovascular fitness, strength and flexibility,” said Clayton.

“Engaging in these activities regularly can help burn calories, maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.”

woman watering garden

Spending time gardening can have physical and mental benefits, experts say. (iStock)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people get 150 minutes of “moderate-intensity exercise” each week, and gardening is listed as a qualifying activity. 

Tending a garden for at least 2-½ hours each week can reduce the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, stroke, depression and colon cancer. 

Beyond burning calories and building muscle, numerous studies have shown that gardening can give the immune system a boost, Clayton said. 

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“Exposure to soil and plants introduces beneficial microorganisms that can strengthen our immune response and improve overall resilience to diseases,” he told Fox News Digital. “Additionally, spending time outdoors exposes us to natural sunlight, promoting vitamin D synthesis and supporting healthy bone and immune function.”

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Starting a garden can also introduce a beneficial social component.

“Gardening provides an opportunity for social connection and community engagement,” Clayton explained. “It can be a shared activity among family members, friends or neighbors, fostering relationships and a sense of belonging.”

Community gardens and gardening clubs also offer spaces for collaboration, knowledge-sharing and camaraderie, he added.

Older woman gardening

Gardening offers cognitive benefits, an expert said, as it stimulates the senses, enhances focus and encourages problem-solving and creativity.  (iStock)

There are also mental health benefits associated with maintaining a garden, the expert said.

“Spending time in nature and tending to plants has a calming and therapeutic effect,” Clayton said. “Gardening allows us to connect with the natural world, reducing stress, anxiety and depression.”

Then there is the sense of purpose, accomplishment and satisfaction that comes with witnessing the growth and transformation of plants, he added.

“Spending time in nature and tending to plants has a calming and therapeutic effect.”

Gardening also offers cognitive benefits, Clayton said, as it stimulates the senses, enhances focus and encourages problem-solving and creativity. 

“It provides an opportunity to learn about plants, ecosystems and the environment, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation for nature,” he said.

Research has even shown that gardening can help to improve the brain nerve growth factors related to memory, according to a 2019 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Vegetable garden

For those cultivating a vegetable or herb garden, there is also a nutritional benefit. (iStock)

For those cultivating a vegetable or herb garden, there is also a nutritional benefit.

“Growing our own fruits, vegetables and herbs allows us to have access to fresh, organic produce,” Clayton explained. “It encourages a healthier eating pattern, as we become more connected to the food we consume and develop a greater appreciation for nutritious choices.”

Research has shown that gardening can help to improve the brain nerve growth factors related to memory.

Starting a garden doesn’t have to require a lot of space, money or time.

Dr. Joe Alton, a physician, preparedness advocate and Florida Master Gardener graduate, recommends starting small if you’re new to gardening.

Friends gardening

Starting a garden can also introduce a beneficial social component. (iStock)

“Many people go hog-wild and take on way more than they can handle, leaving them more stressed out than before,” he told Fox News Digital. “Begin with just a few plants to avoid getting overwhelmed. You can always increase the size of the garden later on.”

It’s also important to learn about which plants grow best in your time zone.

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“If you live in Alaska, you probably won’t have much luck growing coconut palms, mango trees or banana plants,” he said. “Learn about your grow zone and you’ll increase your odds of success.”

Getting to know other gardeners can be a great help as you get started, Alton added. 

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“Many areas have garden clubs or co-ops, which allow you to network with like-minded people,” he said. “Most are happy to share their expertise with newbies. You might even consider going through the Master Gardener program, which is available in many states through the agricultural extension office.”​​

To read more pieces in Fox News Digital’s “Be Well” series, click here.

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