Can gardening help you live longer and better?

Can gardening help you live longer and better?

Just going to sit outdoors tends to calm my nerves and help me to relax. With that morning cup of coffee outside on the patio the caffeine kicks in and I usually end up with at least 30 minutes of gardening “regular duties” like pulling some weeds, clipping unruly branches or re-mulching. It always makes me feel energized. Studies are showing that gardening can lift your mood, energize your step and actually add years to your life.

A BBC gardening article by Dan Buettner tells of what are called the “blue zones” of the world. People living in these blue zones are famed for their longevity. Some blue zones are Okinawa, Japan, Nicoya in Costa Rica, Icaria in Greece, Loma Linda in California, and Sardinia, Italy. Factors these areas have in common, as you might guess, are social networks, daily exercise habits and plant-based diets. But somewhat unexpectedly the researchers have found in each of these communities people are doing daily gardening well into old age, into their 80’s, 90’s and beyond!

This information lead researchers to ask the question, “Could nurturing your green thumb help you live to 100?” Just being outdoors with moderate physical activity is linked to longer life, and gardening is an easy way to accomplish both. If you garden, you’re getting some low-intensity physical activity most days and you tend to work routinely, says Buettner. He adds that gardeners are also less stressed because of the physical and mental health benefits of gardening.

Buettner says that in a recent Dutch study, researchers asked participants to complete a stressful task, then split them into two groups. One group stayed indoors and read to de-stress while the other half gardened outdoors for 30 minutes. The readers said that their mood “further deteriorated” while the outdoor gardeners were in a good mood and had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol when tested. “Australian researchers following men and women in their 60’s found that those who regularly gardened had a 35 percent lower risk of dementia than their non-gardening counterparts.”

Why do gardeners live longer? Since we usually garden during the day the typical gardener gets naturally produced vitamin D from sun exposure. Additionally, the Wellness Mama blog adds that “gardening, by its nature, means sticking your hands in the dirt. Dirt can actually be good for you, in fact; lack of dirt, and the soilborne organisms that come in it, has been linked to higher auto-immune disease.” The blog adds that soil is an incredibly rich source of natural bacteria, minerals and microorganisms. It advocates walking barefoot, spending time touching the earth and soil for 20 minutes a day to “get grounded.”

The gardener who grows veggies and eats them is way ahead in the game. And the gardener who is lifting, raking and digging is really weightlifting and doing flexibility exercises, just like you would do at a gym. Researchers from the U.S. compared mortality rates among farmers against rates for the general population and found farmers less likely do die from cancer, heart diseases or diabetes.

The world’s highest ratio of centenarians is in Okinawa, approximately 50 per 100,000 people. Many residents maintain small personal gardens into their old age. The Japanese feel that in order to grow old in good health you need an “ikigai” or a reason for living. “Gardening, social connectedness, getting together at a local market, bringing your produce and sharing your latest creations from the garden is a big social activity. That certainly helps people feel grounded and connected.”

Happy New Year and may you have many more happy, healthy years to come!

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