The Benefits of the Great Outdoors

There are surprising benefits to gardening, and that’s beyond the vegetables and herbs that end up on your table.

According to UNC Health internal medicine physician Robert Hutchins, MD, MPH, the work of caring for a garden, “…provides some cardiovascular benefit.” It can
also improve hand strength, and n fact, inhaling M. vaccae, a healthy bacteria that lives in soil, can increase levels of serotonin, which in turn reduces anxiety.

Gardening gets you outdoors, so you can get a healthy dose of vitamin D. About 42% of the US population is vitamin D deficient, and this includes pre-menopausal women, those with poor nutrition habits, people over age 65, and those who spend more time indoors than outdoors. A vitamin D deficiency has been shown to produce worse outcomes for those who catch the COVID-19 virus.

According to the AARP, a 2006 study found that gardening can lower risk of dementia by 36%. Researchers tracked more than 2,800 people over the age of 60 for 16 years and concluded that physical activity, particularly gardening, could reduce the incidence of dementia in future years.

Your garden can produce helpful herbs, such as lavender, which has a calming effect. Basil and parsley not only tastes good but can reduce abdominal gas. Mint helps with digestion, which is why peppermint has often been served as an after-dinner mint. Rosemary really is for remembrance—the aroma of it has been shown to improve memory in those who are regularly exposed to it.

Other studies have shown that spending at least two hours a week outdoors, in nature, produces better health and a stronger sense of well-being. You might want to consider planting a butterfly garden with perennial wildflowers that attract these beautiful insects. Or perhaps a hummingbird garden, with a mix of colorful plants and trees. At The Spruce you can find tips for planning out such a garden. The fall and winter are great times to make such plans, and then you’ll be ready in spring to get your garden started.

Or consider digging up some soil now in the fall to plant bulbs outside, which will appreciate the winter cold and produce flowers in the spring.
If a garden sounds like too much work, think about just taking a walk and scattering wildflower seeds as you go. At Plants of the Southwest you’ll find a huge assortment of native New Mexican wildflowers that will add color to your area.

Get the kids outside, too. A study that tracked more than 3,000 children living in southern California over eight years found that those who close to parks had lower Body Mass Indexes at age 18 than those who lived further away. So getting outside, and digging into the dirt, is a good way to loose a few pounds.

Finally, if nothing else, take your coffee out onto the porch to enjoy the sunrise and a lovely morning, or get out in the evening for a short walk to enjoy the beauty around you and listen to bird songs and take some deep breaths. It’s a path to a longer, more sustainable life.

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