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April 10, 2018

Gardening: Where Food and Activity Meet

Written by: Shannon Corlett, MS, RDN, LDN

Ever feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day? Like you can barely find time to eat, not to mention exercise or relax? We live in a busy world, where stress and anxiety feel like the norm and even sleep gets sacrificed in the pursuit of checking one more task off the list. And often taking care of ourselves is what gets left out when it feels like everything else needs to come first.

But don’t be fooled by that constant nagging feeling that you’ve never accomplished enough. Our lives are built around the people, activities, and events that we value most and, whether or not you realize it, you’re constantly prioritizing one thing over another. Making the conscious decision to change your priorities can be daunting, but there are tricks to incorporating time for the health of you and your family during the day.

In honor of National Garden Month (April), here are just some of the benefits of planning time to garden each week.


  • Reduced rates of depression and anxiety. Did you know that just seeing green space can improve your mental health? (1,2) Not to mention your weight, (3) risk of chronic disease, (4) and longevity. (5) Most of us now spend our lives stuck indoors, chained to a desk, and staring at a computer screen- Not the ideal scenario for your emotions. But gardening can combat this on multiple levels. Just being outside and seeing the green space helps, adding movement and purpose are even better, and at the end you have fresh produce to nourish your body. Not to mention the Vitamin D boost you’ll receive from spending time in the sun (don’t forget sunscreen!).


  • Exercise. You can get your entire daily workout from an hour in the garden. Gardening burns as many or more calories than moderate intensity walking. Plus, you add muscle building and toning when you’re lifting, digging, or weeding. Still not convinced? For many people, boredom is the nemesis of physical activity. The weather will give you plenty of days stuck inside but switching up your activity will help you stay engaged and motivated to be active.


  • Increased quality of life and sense of community. Did you know that 1 out of 3 people in the U.S garden? (6) And that number holds true in many other countries around the world. Growing your own food is an activity that can bring people and their communities together.


  • Weight Loss. Research shows that gardening can reduce your BMI by ~2 points. (7) That’s 10-15#s! No matter what the underlying cause (eating the produce, moving more, feeling better), people who garden tend to weight less than their neighbors, their spouses, and their siblings.


  • Cognitive Function. As we age, it’s important to maintain a healthy diet, but gardening goes beyond this basic need. We must also continue to learn and exercise our brains to maintain cognitive function. Planning and preparing a garden, learning about new techniques, and implementing changes keep your mind active and engaged. While we’re on the topic of aging, did you know that it’s a myth that you must gain weight as you age? There is no biological reason for this change we often see in our society. As we age we tend to become more sedentary, reducing our muscle mass. And despite changes in metabolic needs, we continue to eat as much food as we needed when we were younger. Maintaining an active lifestyle is one of the best things you can do for your mind and your body as you grow older.


  • Children. Have picky eaters at home? Learning about food and getting involved in gardening is one of the best ways to help children increase their acceptance of vegetables. When they see you caring for the plants and then enjoying them around the table, it helps to build your children’s appreciation for having a bright and colorful diet. Let them get involved in choosing what to grow, where to plant it, when to harvest it, etc. The hands-on learning will increase their investment in the food and offer you a valuable opportunity to increase your quality time together.


You’ll notice that the list does not include the most obvious benefit of gardening; You end up with high quality produce to nourish yourself and your family. In a world where time is so valuable, it can feel like there’s no room to add another activity. But what if one appointment on the calendar could be good for your mental, physical, and spiritual health, not to mention the health of your family? A small garden, even growing in pots on the patio, is enough to achieve all of this. Want to learn more about what to plant where and when. Ask your Register Dietitian for a North Carolina growing calendar today!

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