4 Ways Nurturing Life Around You Nurtures Life Within You

In mid-February, you may think the circulation in your tending fingers is weak and frozen, having forgotten what it means to pick, spread, dig, pat, and otherwise foster a seedling from taking root to flowering. 

Maybe you can start gardening again in April!

Well, you could… but you’d be missing out on all of the vegetables that bloom beautifully in April and May. And to enjoy those, you’d have to start thinking about growing them around now!

Worst case scenario, you’ve got a stone thumb. If you follow what happens to your produce, whether you find them at farmer’s markets or in the organic aisle, you probably have considered growing your own food. 

Especially if you live in an urban setting! It used to be that without a backyard with healthy soil, you just couldn’t garden. But urban gardening has carved a deep and accessible path for itself in our 2020, hyper-informed universe. 

So even living in a city doesn’t exclude you from being able to start thinking now about growing broccoli, cabbage, collards, kale, lettuce, leaks, peas, spinach, and more…

But the increasing accessibility of gardening and the benefit of knowing which chemicals come in contact with your food isn’t even the best part…

The best part is that gardening is physically good for you.

Specifically, we’re going to talk about four ways gardening positively impacts your physical health. 

Happier Heart and Lower Blood Pressure

There’s a reason gardening is recommended to seniors as a preventive measure — it’s proven to lead to a healthier heart. 

The CDC recommends that you get 2.5 hours of moderate intensity exercise in a week for optimal cardiovascular health. The same organization classifies gardening as a moderate intensity exercise. And suggests it’s even better for you than walking for the same amount of time (mainly because you engage your arms and legs more in gardening).

That is to say, the physical motions you make while you’re gardening — digging, standing up and down, keeping your arms elevated and engaged, hinging at the waist — specifically count as light cardiovascular exercise. An hour’s worth of this kind of exercise can burn 330 calories. 

Studies have even shown that gardening lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart attack by about 30%. 

Literal Reduction of Stress Hormones

You’re probably familiar with cortisol as the body’s stress hormone.

Studies done on the soothing effects of gardening have noted an actual decrease in the body’s salivary cortisol levels after even 30 minutes of gardening. 

In fact, that same study split their groups into gardening participants and reading participants — gardening beat out reading in terms of stress reduction.

Not only that, but the creative and personal elements of gardening reduce stress in the same way that painting, playing music, or otherwise flexing your imagination does — designing your plot, planning your harvest, sprinkling in flowers, painting your gardening box…

All of the planning and execution of gardening is an exercise in expression.;

Dirt and Sun Makes You Happy, Happy Makes You Healthy

Digging in the dirt can actually convince your brain to be happy.

The microbes in soil can literally have an antidepressant effect on the brain. Mycobacterium vaccae is a bacteria that lives naturally in the soil. It’s been shown to make mice resilient to stress and mirror the effects that drugs like Prozac have on the neurons in the brain.

Not to mention being out in the sun means that your skin is absorbing Vitamin D, which is also produced by the body. Most of the time, anything you can do to help the body gain more of things it naturally produces is a good idea.

There’s more than one reason Vitamin D is referred to as “the sunshine vitamin” — having adequate levels of Vitamin D improves your mood and boosts mood regulation. 

Stronger Immune Function

Because you’re exposing yourself to all of the microbes in the soil outside, and even getting dirt underneath your fingernails, you’re strengthening your immune system’s ability to recognize harmful pathogens and not fight the good bacteria.

Think back to the “Hygiene Hypothesis,” or the suggestion that our excessively clean world has led to an increase in allergies, asthma, and other deficiencies of the immune system. Decades later, scientists have realized that it isn’t that the world is too clean. It’s that we’ve cut ourselves off from the microbial universe, which is vital to the functionality of all parts of our bodies, from our immunity to our gut’s microbiome. 

The solution? 

Get out in the dirt! Build your own ecosystem full of worms, insects, microbes, and natural elements. There are 4 billion microbes in one square inch of soil. A whole garden-full? That’s how the human body builds immune strength — through exposure.

Your immune system will thank you, and so will your kitchen and your wallet.

If you were looking for a better reason to garden, think about it as a full stack, vertically integrated, renaissance activity.

It covers your exercise, your happiness, your immunity, your strength, and your organ health.

Plus, food you make with love tends to taste better!

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Dr. Pedram Shojai

NY Times Best Selling author and film maker. Taoist Abbot and Qigong master. Husband and dad. I’m here to help you find your way and be healthy and happy. I don’t want to be your guru…just someone who’ll help point the way. If you’re looking for a real person who’s done the work, I’m your guy. I can light the path and walk along it with you but can’t walk for you.