The benefits of gardening

with advice from Joyce Klee, PT, and Desirea Caucci, PT, DPT

The benefits of gardening

Summer is ending, and the end of extreme heat means it’s a great time to plant fall vegetables like broccoli and leafy greens, as well as fall flowers. Why plant your garden? Beyond the nutritional (and economical) benefits of growing your own fresh vegetables, you should remember that there are lots of health benefits that come with gardening as well.

The most obvious perks are physical; Joyce Klee, a physical therapist and co-owner at Physiquality member Clinton Physical Therapy Center in Tennessee, notes that “many of the movements in gardening — squatting, pulling, digging and lifting — keep muscles strong and toned. And required positions, like sitting while flexed forward, will help stretch tight muscles, making them more flexible.” You’ll also be burning about 250 calories per hour, the equivalent of ½ a Big Mac or 3½ glasses of wine.

That doesn’t even take into account the literal heavy lifting required to garden. Joyce says that “carrying such items as bags of soil, water jugs and other gardening equipment can help make bones stronger by offering a weight-bearing activity.” You should also consider getting a push lawnmower rather than an electric- or gas-powered one; pushing the mower at a moderate pace can give you great cardio training, especially if your yard has hills. And pulling weeds requires squatting, strengthening the hamstrings and quads in your legs.

Desirea Caucci, a physical therapist and co-owner of Conshohocken Physical Therapy in Pennsylvania, another Physiquality member clinic, also reminds us that gardening outside helps us absorb vitamin D, which strengthens bones and the immunity system. It’s even been shown that doing merely 5 minutes a day of outside physical activity can decrease the risk of mental illness, relax the brain, and improve one’s sense of well being.

Nurturing a garden helps you look toward the future and feel a sense of accomplishment.Gardening has other emotional benefits as well. Planting and nurturing a garden allows you to look ahead and expect something positive, helping some people battle depression. Joyce notes the sense of achievement gained through tending a garden; growing fresh vegetables or beautiful flowers is a very tangible accomplishment, “making a positive difference in the world through nature!” (And don’t forget the economic benefits of gardening — a beautiful yard often increases the value of your home.)

Be prepared with the right tools to protect your health. Aprons with large pockets will keep tools nearby and keep you from straining to reach them throughout projects. Gardening benches allow you to protect your back while remaining close to your plants. And large-brimmed hats and sunscreen are essential to avoid sunburn and bug bites. Also consider the size of your garden; large gardens can often be more frustrating than helpful.

People of all ages and physical abilities can benefit from gardening. If you’re concerned about physical problems holding you back, talk to a physical or occupational therapist about the types of tools that can help you garden safely and pain-free in your own backyard. (Find a Physiquality network therapist with this search tool). Specialty gardening tools equipped with longer handles can prevent stooping over, and hose extensions can reduce the amount you’ll need to lift in order to water your entire yard.

If you’re still hesitant about a backyard garden, Desirea also points out that bringing your gardening indoors still gives you many of the health benefits of an outdoor garden. Houseplants will improve your air quality and connect you to the natural world outside, while keeping your house pretty and giving you a sense of accomplishment.

So what are you afraid of? Get those hands dirty and improve your health while making the world (or your yard, at any rate) a more beautiful place.

Joyce Klee, PT, is a physical therapist and a co-owner of Clinton Physical Therapy Center, a Physiquality network physical therapy clinic in Clinton, Tennessee.

Desirea Caucci, PT, DPT is a physical therapist and a co-owner of Conshohocken Physical Therapy, a Physiquality network physical therapy clinic in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. Our thanks to Desirea, whose blog post on gardening was the inspiration for this pqBlog entry.

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For further reading:

Caucci, Desirea. The great benefits of gardening. Plymouth-Whitemarsh Patch, July 20, 2011.

In the green of health: Just 5 minutes of “green exercise” optimal for good mental health. Science Daily, May 21, 2010.

Pleasant, Barbara. Grow your best fall garden: What, when and how. Mother Earth News, August/September 2009.

Martin, Aime Ryan. Therapy from a garden bed. ADVANCE for Occupational Therapy Practitioners, April 14, 2009.

Parker-Pope, Tara. Natural settings help brain fatigue. New York Times, October 27, 2008.

Crimer, Patti. Gardening with ease. ADVANCE for Occupational Therapy Practitioners, April 16, 2001.

O’Reilly, Annie. Garden ergonomics. ADVANCE for Occupational Therapy Practitioners, May 8, 2000.

The material and information contained on this Web site is for information only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or consultation.

Consult your personal physician before beginning any exercise program or self-treatment.