The garden. It's something you've considered taking up for years. You watched your grandparents as they cultivated their own crops in the backyard, or simply overheard someone in passing laud the glories of having a big beautiful vegetable garden. Either way, you're curious. And yet something holds you back. Is it the time? The money? Maybe it's just that you'd rather be doing squats at the gym or taking a few extra yoga classes rather than waste time puttering around in a pile of dirt. Well, believe it or not, gardening has some significant health benefits that will help you live longer, be more fulfilled, and have a greater sense of wellness. Don't believe me? Let's get started.
Garden vegetables are healthier than store-bought
We all know that we should be eating more fruits and vegetables. But did you know that fruits and vegetables begin losing their nutritional value almost immediately after harvesting? The Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture states:
"...fruits and vegetables are typically over 90% water and, once they are harvested, begin to undergo higher rates of respiration, resulting in moisture loss, quality deterioration and potential microbial spoilage. Harvesting itself separates the fruit or vegetable from its source of nutrients, the plant or tree, and it essentially uses itself as a source of calories."
That means that by the time you pick up that fresh piece of veg at your local Whole Foods you may have missed out on a significant portion of its benefits.With a vegetable patch in your backyard, you can easily pick, wash, and eat fresh fruits and vegetables almost immediately, thus retaining all of those Vitamin As, Cs, and Ks; not to mention plenty of fiber as well. If you're looking to ramp up your nutritional game, gardening is a great way to help.
Get more nutrients from your garden
Gardening strengthens your immune system
You may have heard the phrase "God made dirt, dirt won't hurt."
It turns out not only does it not hurt, it may downright improve your health. Studies show that in this age of hyper-cleanliness and processed food our microbiome – the collection of bacteria in our bodies that allow us to fight viruses and deal with allergens and even plays a significant role in metabolism and weight loss – is slowly but surely being washed and starved into oblivion.
There have been reports that getting your hands dirty in the garden is a great way to increase to strengthen your microbiome by coming in contact with various microbes in the dirt. This builds up immunity to a host of allergens and germs to make you stronger and more capable of handling anything that comes at you from this dirty, germ-ridden world.
Boost your microbial game with some dirt handling
Gardening saves you money (which means less stress)
If you find yourself dishing out 10s and 20s every week for your greens and grub, consider that a packet of seeds costs a fraction of the fruit that they potentially provide. With just a small 4' x 8' raised bed in the backyard you can put a significant dent in the amount you have to spend on fresh produce.
While you may have to spend a decent amount of time preparing and cultivating a new garden, this time will become less as you learn and develop as a gardener and the skills and corollary benefits that you gain can be viewed as an investment rather than as an expense.
Gardening is a meditation
Gardening can be a form of meditation on multiple levels. The repetition and ritual of weeding and watering can emulate aspects of mindfulness. While the constant dependence on weather conditions such as sunlight, rain, and wind require a consistent resetting of the mind on the times and seasons in the same way that Vipassana meditation requires a consistent refocusing on the breath. This balance of emptiness and dynamic change is a great way to develop a Zen-like patience and perseverance no matter what time of year.
My own fledgling garden earlier this year
So if you're looking for the latest health hack try looking back in time to a practice that's millennia old: the garden.