Garden for your health

Many gardeners know what scientists have only recently discovered: gardening reduces stress

Many gardeners know what scientists have only recently discovered:  gardening reduces stress. Getting your hands dirty can provide a variety of other health benefits, too. Gardening may improve fitness levels, promote weight loss, and lead to better eating, says TOPS Club, Inc.® (Take Off Pounds Sensibly®), the nonprofit weight-loss support organization.

A 2011 study from the Journal of Health Psychology gave participants a stressful task and then randomly assigned them either 30 minutes of outdoor gardening or indoor reading. Both led to decreases in the stress hormone cortisol, but the decreases were “significantly stronger” for the gardeners.

New exercisers tend to focus on dedicated aerobic activities like walking, running, cycling or dance. According to Swedish researchers, gardening and other household activities can be just as good as formal aerobic exercise for reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. In fact, the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute considers gardening for 30 to 45 minutes moderate physical activity. Without realizing it, you could burn around 300 calories an hour just by mowing, digging and weeding.

Cathleen D. Zick and colleagues at the University of Utah studied community gardeners and found that they had a lower body mass index than their nongardening neighbors. According to the report, published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2013, gardeners were also less likely to be overweight or obese. Gardeners may also register lower weights because they eat the fruits of their labor.

Dig It! How to Get Started

Plan. A well-planned garden can save time, money and frustration. Notice what your neighbors are successfully growing in their gardens. You can also learn more about your growing zone and soil quality. The American Horticultural Society offers a list of native plant societies in the U.S., as well as Plant Hardiness and Heat Zone maps, on its website, Visit or call a native plant society in your area for more help.

Start slowly. Try planting a small garden at first. If you don’t have a yard, think about container gardening. Slowly increase your gardening time over several sessions to reduce the chance of muscle soreness.

Choose tools wisely. Tools that are too big or too small for your height can damage your back. Select tools that don’t compromise your posture. Use additional equipment that will help you garden comfortably, such as knee pads or stools.

Dress appropriately. Protect yourself. Wear old, loose clothing; strong shoes; gardening gloves; and a hat.

Pay attention to your body. Many gardening tasks favor the dominant hand and that side of the body. Maximize the health benefits by trying some tasks, like digging and watering, with your nondominant hand.

Six Must-Have Herbs

Whether grown in your garden or purchased at the store, these herbs can add flavor to your favorite soups, salads, main courses and more.

Basil – good for Italian dishes, pesto, and sandwiches. Try a slice of fresh mozzarella and tomato with ribbons of basil atop a whole wheat cracker.

Chives – good for potatoes and salad garnishes. If cooking with chopped chives, add them near the end to retain their mild taste.

Cilantro – good for salsas, salads, and soups. Use cilantro stems when making the popular Indian entrée chicken tikka masala. Then garnish with the leaves.

Parsley – good for garnishes, sauces, and salads. Many chefs prefer flat-leaf, or Italian, parsley to curly parsley for cooking. Both work as garnishes.

Rosemary – good for meat dishes, bread, and pizza. Pierce veggies with stiff rosemary branches for skewers that add flavor, and then grill.

Thyme – good for vegetables, chicken, and fish. Brighten angel hair pasta and garden veggies with lemon, thyme and a drizzle of olive oil.

TOPS Club Inc.® (Take Off Pounds Sensibly®) is the original weight-loss support and wellness education organization. TOPS promotes successful weight management with a “Real People. Real Weight Loss.®” philosophy that combines support from others at weekly chapter meetings, healthy eating, regular exercise and wellness information. TOPS has about 150,000 members – male and female, age seven and older – in thousands of chapters throughout the United States and Canada.

To find a local chapter, view or call (800) 932-8677.