The Good Health Garden: How to Stay Active Harvesting Healthy Crops

Small plants in pots

Generally speaking, there are two primary ways to improve your health — move more and eat better. Gardening helps you check off both those boxes by increasing your activity and providing you with fresh, preservative-free produce.

And, if that’s not enough to get your green thumb going, studies also show that exposure to plants can also reduce stress, anxiety and muscle tension.[1]

If you’re considering taking up a new healthy habit, here’s a grounded, fact-based argument to try your hand at gardening.

Health Benefits of Gardening

Gloved Hand in Garden

Gardening offers a long-list of health and wellness improvements — both mental and physical. Here’s a full breakdown of each science-backed benefit:

Torch Extra Calories

According to Harvard Health, one hour of gardening burns between 270 and 400 calories per hour. While those numbers aren’t as eye-popping as the caloric-burn you get from running a marathon or taking a CrossFit class, they can quickly add up as you spend hours peacefully cultivating your crops.

Get Enough Vitamin D

Almost 50% of people worldwide don’t get enough vitamin D. And, since the “sunshine vitamin” is responsible for keeping your immune system strong and your calcium levels in check, it’s essential that you get enough. Fortunately, studies show that spending time in the sun gardening can help boost vitamin D levels. [1][2]

Spice Things Up

Too much sodium is bad for your health. Fortunately, there’s a variety of healthy salt-alternatives you can use to spruce up your favorite dishes, many of which can easily be grown in a home-based garden. From Parsley to Rosemary, these fresh herbs offer distinct new flavors that liven up recipes and provide unique health benefits.

Enhance Your Memory

Green thumbs lead to good memories, according to science. Research shows that gardening regularly may help lower the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s. What’s more, early studies show that it may also help improve your brain’s memory-related nerves. [1]

Improve Strength & Dexterity

When it comes to gardening, you’ll literally need to get your hands dirty sometimes. Digging, raking and mowing — it’s all part of the gig. According to research, all that gritty ground-work can lead to real, substantive gains in your strength and dexterity. [1]

Reduce Anxiety & Depression

Cultivating crops may also help improve several mental health markers. Research shows that exposure to plants and nature is associated with lower rates of depression and anxiety. Gardening has even been used as a therapeutic treatment for those suffering from clinical anxiety and depression. [1]

Up Your Fiber Intake

Harvesting a healthy crop of vegetables and fruits is an easy way to boost your fiber intake. Fiber helps lower cholesterol, keeps your gut healthy, helps regulate blood sugar levels and helps you full longer so you don’t overeat.

Fight off Inflammation

When it comes to produce, keep a colorful collection in your garden. Plants with different colors provide different nutrients and phytonutrients based on their pigmentation. Each of those phytonutrients acts as antioxidants, which can help reduce inflammation.

Healthy Vegetables, Fruits & Spices to Plant in Your Garden

Tomatoes on a vine in garden

Unsure which seeds to sow? Here’s a list of low-maintenance, nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables and herbs to add to your new healthy garden:

  • Tomatoes: Tomatoes contain antioxidant properties, shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer. They’re also a great source of vitamin C and vitamin K.
  • Cucumbers: Cucumbers are a good source of vitamin K and vitamin C. They also support healthy hydration and contain antioxidants.
  • Winter Squash: Red-orange colored produce, such as winter squash, is an excellent source of vitamin A. Vitamin A helps support healthy eyesight and offers immune-boosting benefits.
  • Pumpkin: Pumpkins are also an excellent source of vitamin A and antioxidants, which may decrease the risk of chronic diseases.
  • Cabbage: Cabbage is a great source of vitamin C and vitamin K and may help strengthen your bones!
  • Bell Peppers: Bell peppers are rich in vitamin C and potassium! Eating enough bell peppers has shown to provide a variety of heart-healthy benefits.
  • Beets: Beets are a good source of manganese and folate. They also have strong antioxidant properties that may help lower the risk of chronic disease.
  • Carrots: Carrots are a great source of vitamin A and fiber. Snacking on carrots is a great way to improve your digestion and vision.
  • Basil: Fresh basil is a good source of vitamins A and K and is a great way to add a hint of fresh flavor to your favorite home-made recipes.
  • Parsley: Parsley contains potassium and vitamin C and can offer a variety of heart-healthy benefits.
  • Oregano: Add oregano to your healthy garden to ensure you get plenty of vitamin E and calcium! Oregano also has antibacterial properties that come from phytonutrients.
  • Cilantro: Cilantro is rich in antioxidants, vitamin A and vitamin C. Regularly working cilantro into your recipes can lower the risk of Alzheimer’s.
  • Thyme: Thyme is another fresh herb loaded with vitamins A and C. Grow it, then sprinkle it on your favorite dish to reap its immune-boosting benefits.
  • Mint: Mint is a good source of fiber and manganese. Just a hint of mint can help improve digestion.

How to Cultivate a Healthy Garden

Hand shovel covered in dirt

There’s more to gardening than fresh scents and pretty views. Ensuring that you have the appropriate space, setup, tools and plan is also essential.

Know Your Seasons

Some plants thrive in the sunny summer weather, while others blossom during the rainy days of spring. So, before breaking ground, it’s essential to know the proper time to plant and the ripening cycle for your crops. If your seeds are store-bought, you can typically find this info on the packaging.

Pick the Perfect Spot

Most plants need about 6 to 8 hours of sun every day. You’ll need to pick the perfect spot to place your garden to make sure it gets adequate sunshine. Also, make sure your garden isn’t in an area prone to intense winds or other extreme weather conditions.

Measure the pH Levels

Soil can be alkaline or acidic, similar to the human body. So, it’s critical to measure your soil’s pH levels — a measurement of its alkalinity or acidity — before planting your crops. If your soil is above a seven on the pH scale, it’s too alkaline to grow most crops. If this happens, you can try mixing rock sulfur into the soil and waiting a few weeks to retest or planting your garden in raised beds.

Keep a Consistent Watering Schedule

Your garden’s need for water will depend on the soil, humidity and rainfall in your area. However, every plant is different, and some require more water than others. Before determining a watering cycle, refer to your seeds packaging instructions.

Maintain with Mulch

Mulching prevents pesky weeds from invading your garden. To help keep weeds at bay, add a two to four-inch layer of mulch. If you see any weeds creeping into your garden, pull them from the stem’s lowest point to get the entire plant.

Sources:

[1] www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/
[2] www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc

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written by

Brenna Wallace

Brenna Wallace

MS, RDN, LDN

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