Gardening is becoming increasingly popular as more people become concerned about the quality of their food and recognize the physical, mental, and even spiritual benefits of connecting with nature. Modern living has separated us from the natural world, and many are starting to connect the dots, understanding that a connection with the land is important for health, fitness, happiness, and overall well-being.
Gardening may also hold the key to improved mental health, stress relief, and much-needed exercise in a world where most of us spend our days sitting in front of computers in artificially lit rooms.
Here are a few of the reasons to grow a garden
A garden can improve your health by providing you with fresher, uncontaminated food that you can’t buy in your local grocery store. Numerous studies have shown that home-grown organic produce is superior to commercial produce, which may be larger but lacks minerals and vitamins found in organically grown food. Commercial produce also contains residues from herbicides, fungicides and pesticides, which can compromise our health.
For many of us, it’s very difficult to obtain high-quality, nutrient-dense foods unless we grow them ourselves. Gardening is an important step toward building a more sustainable food system. If you are just beginning, try to start small and expand as you go (for some inspiration, learn how to create your own at-home salad bar). Eventually, large portions of your meals can come straight from your own edible garden. For those who don’t have space for gardening, try growing sprouts in the kitchen.
Sprouts are among the most nutritious foods you can grow; seeds, when sprouted, can contain up to 30 times the nutrients of organic vegetables! Sprouts also allow your body to extract more of the vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fats from the other foods you eat. Sprouting jars and flats requires very little space, and sprout gardening can go on all year round indoors.
Fitness researchers have found that when you exercise outdoors, you exercise harder than you would indoors, but perceive it as being easier. Obviously, this can have significant health benefits. Gardening activities help us to keep our bodies in shape: the average gardener burns 300 to 400 calories per hour, depending on the intensity of the exercise, all while breathing fresh air and receiving sunlight. Then there’s the feeling of accomplishment you have as your garden flourishes, which motivates you to continue working out in the garden every day.
3. Stress relief
Researchers in the Netherlands have found that gardening is one of the most potent stress-relieving activities around. In their trial, two groups of people were asked to complete a stressful task; one group was then instructed to garden for half an hour while the other group was asked to read indoors for the same length of time. Afterward, the gardening group reported a greater improvement in mood. Tests also revealed they had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, compared to those who tried to relax through quiet reading.
4. Improved mental health
Gardening can also help relieve depression. Many times depression is rooted in the feeling of being disconnected from nature, and hence disconnected from yourself. Researchers have also found that digging in the soil may affect your mental health via the “grounding” in the soil. Walking barefoot on the earth transfers free electrons from the earth’s surface into your body that spread throughout your tissues. Grounding has been shown to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, improve sleep, and enhance your well-being.
Many a gardener will attest to the sense of well-being obtained from sticking your hands in the dirt as well, and this is separate from the pleasure of accomplishment that comes from eating your own home-grown food. According to a survey by Gardeners’ World magazine, 80 percent of gardeners reported being happy and satisfied with their lives, compared to 67 percent of non-gardeners. This feeling of well-being can have other more far-reaching implications for your physical health as well. According to recent research from Johns Hopkins, having a cheerful temperament can significantly reduce your odds of suffering a heart attack or sudden cardiac death.
5.Saves you money
Food grown in your own garden is ofresher, more nutritious, and tastes better than store bought food – and you can’t beat the price! Gardening actually requires the simplest of tools and infrastructure to produce food for the family. Fertilizer can be made at home from kitchen scraps and organic wastes turned into compost, and natural insect controls and plant sprays can be made from items found in the kitchen. Instead of driving to the market and dealing with the crowd, now you can harvest produce right in the peace and quiet of your backyard.
Protects the environment
Urban gardens are saving energy, protecting water quality and topsoil, promoting biodiversity and beautifying densely populated communities. Gardeners recycle organic wastes into compost, which could reduce landfill garbage up to 40 percent.
Now’s a great time, during the Costa Rican dry season, to get started designing and creating home gardens. By the time the rains return, you’ll be ready to let the gardening begin!
Read more of Ed Bernhardt’s monthly Home Gardening columns here.
This article first appeared in 2016 .For more information on tropical gardening in Costa Rica – naturally – visit Ed at the New Dawn Center