Gardening as preventive medicine

It goes without saying that gardening has substantial health benefits.

In previous posts I discussed insulin resistance and how this condition leads to type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Putting the physical work in to grow vegetables burns fat and works the muscles to increase insulin sensitivity. And obviously the return, quality food produced, helps ameliorate this issue and inflammation as well.

Staying outside and gardening has the added benefit of helping me personally because the less time I spend in the house, the less time I’m prone to mindless snacking in the kitchen.

A recently published meta-analysis of scientific studies turned up some additional findings about gardening that are worth mentioning.

One of the most noteworthy findings is that it improves cognitive function and can cut your risk of dementia by as much as fifty percent. Gardening is great therapy for dementia patients as well.

Gardening can improve sleep quality. This is not just because the physical activity tires you out, but because the act of gardening reduces stress and anxiety, helping you fall asleep faster, and more soundly.

Some of the studies in the meta-analysis showed that daily contact with nature has a long-lasting and deep impact on health, including depression. I’ve found that there’s almost nothing as therapeutic for mental health than gardening. Picking something like a ripe tomato that I myself grew provides a huge sense of accomplishment.

Recently vitamin D deficiency has been linked to the increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Though there is debate over the cause and effect relationship, vitamin D is important for cardiovascular function, bone density, and the immune system to name a few things, and the best way to get it is to make it yourself. Outdoor gardening is a great way to give your body some exposure to sunlight so that your skin can produce it. 

I’ll admit that I don’t like daily exercise regimens, like going to fitness classes, attending a gym, or running around a track. Gardening is a great way to get exercise that provides a wonderful return.

If you’re concerned about your mobility or stamina and that’s preventing you from getting started, you can still get plenty of exercise and the benefits from being outside. Try something like raised bed or container gardening, or doing something like straw bale gardening, an ingenious and inexpensive design that will be a lot easier to manage, and also a lot easier on the back.

If you’re concerned that it’s too late for you to reverse a chronic illness like type 2 diabetes and heart disease, that’s not always the case. And an activity like gardening can help to ease symptoms and improve the outcomes advanced chronic disease.

You don’t need a green thumb. Just choose a reputable guide and start growing. You will make mistakes and then learn from them, it’s really the only way to become a successful gardener. Get gardening this spring and let food be your medicine.