What if I told you that you could simply plant a garden each year and it could contribute to lower blood pressure or better health? According to the Mayo Clinic, the research on how to lower blood pressure is quite strong, – things like be at a healthy weight, eat healthy foods and lower your sodium intake – what you might not realize is that when you plant a garden, you are by default doing all those things and more that contribute to better health and better blood pressure.
When I was a supermarket dietitian, I envisioned a garden where kids could learn about their food and prepare it right in the garden. The vision became a reality and hundreds of kids and families have benefitted from this garden experience. By having kids involved in the gardening process – the planting, the weeding, the watering and the harvesting, we were able to change negative attitudes about fruits and vegetables to positive ones. And parents took notice of these new enthusiastic attitudes and offered more fruits and vegetables at home because of it. Kids were eating better. And even more, many of those families decided to plant a garden right at their own home to give their child a more frequent gardening experience.
If working in a garden as a child can make that much of an impact, it can also have an influence on us as adults. Here are a few ways gardening can make an impact on your health:
Lose Extra Pounds and Exercise
Consider this: The average time spent per week on home food gardening is 5 hours which is 300 minutes. It’s recommended we strive for 150 minutes per week. Add to that, vigorous gardening (that elevates heart rate) can burn up to 300 calories in 30 minutes. That’s equivalent to 3,000 calories in five hours of heart-pumping weeding and raking a week. Don’t forget: One pound of fat is equal to 3,500 calories.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Did you know a well-maintained home food garden can produce a ½ pound of fresh produce per square foot and that it would be worth on average $2.00/pound? With the average investment into a garden being about $70.00 and an average garden size of 600 square foot, the yield, or total harvest, would be 300 pounds of food with a value of $600. That’s a $530 return on investment and a lot of calories saved. Add that to saving calories outside the garden by choosing diet beverages over sugary ones, and you’ll really be on track.
Reduce Your Sodium
While all these fresh fruits and vegetables are growing in the garden, don’t forget to plant your favorite herbs. Fresh herbs can add an abundance of flavor in place of additional salt. Fresh basil, cilantro, parsley and chives are popular as they can be added to a variety of dishes. Yet, oregano, thyme and rosemary are also good choices and are a bit hardier with the weather.
Research suggests that just 30 minutes of gardening contributes to less stress and can enhance your mood, making you feel happier. Getting outside into the fresh air can really contribute to health!
It’s Fun to Do with Family
Considering all the benefits of gardening on health; don’t keep this activity to yourself! It’s wise to invite family and friends to join you in the garden as well. Kids love to be involved in the watering and weeding process, and even before that, the choosing what’s planted and the planting process. Definitely make gardening a family activity so the whole family reaps the harvest together.
Jen Haugen, RDN, LD, is a Minnesota-based dietitian, writer and gaRDening. Known as the “Down-to-Earth Dietitian” on her website, jenhaugen.com, Jen specializes in writing to move mom to create the recipe to a nourishing life centered on food, faith, gardening and making memories together as a family. As a communications consultant, Jen specializes in online social media engagement, website content development, recipe development and speaking. Jen also works part-time as a school nutrition dietitian working to enhance and promote healthy options throughout her school district. You can find her on Facebook at Jen Haugen RD and on Twitter @jenhaugen.