By Christine Zellers, MPP, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Cape May County’s, Family & Community Health Sciences
Physical activity is an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends 60 minutes of physical activity for children each day and 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week for adults along with a well-balanced diet to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Getting good cardiovascular exercise should be part of a healthy lifestyle which means the heart is pumping and breathing is heavy. It is important that adults include two days each week of weight bearing exercise like pushups or weightlifting in addition to the 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise recommended. Activity should be at least ten minutes in length it may include several ten-minute activity times for one day to reach needed movement goals. Maintaining physical activity goals can be difficult depending on location and resources. Gardening can play an important role in creating physical activity opportunities and supporting emotional well-being.
Growing your own food offers low intensity to moderate intensity exercise depending on the task. As with any activity a person’s age and fitness level will determine the intensity level experienced and gardening is no different. Digging, lifting, raking, and planting all produce movement, for both the upper and lower body. As an example, the arms are being strengthened with lifting which means the biceps, triceps, shoulders and back are all being moved. Gardening increases flexibility and strengthens joints. Bending and stretching to dig and rake gives the body movement that is needed to support strong joints and flexible muscles. Leg muscles and back muscles are involved in the efforts of gardening too. Health benefits of gardening can include better bone density and well-being, as well as lowering of cholesterol, blood pressure, and mortality. Growing food in a home or community garden fosters a healthy body and healthy mind making garden to table beneficial for mind, body and soul.
As with all physical activities, it is important to remember to be safe. Begin gardening by moving around a little before trying to lift heavy objects or bend suddenly. Ease into the activity so that unfamiliar movement doesn’t cause injury. Begin with light movement like laying plants out in the garden or arranging lighter gardening equipment where it will be needed so that muscles become warm with movement. Walking around the garden or yard a few times could warm up muscles as well. Remember to lift properly especially since big bags of soil and mulch may be heavier than items that are regularly carried. Use caution when raking and digging as these are movements that the body may not be accustomed to doing in everyday activity. Garden to enjoy fresh food and a healthy body but remember to be safe and always talk to the doctor before starting a new activity.
Gardening not only makes us physically active but gives a healthy dose of well-being. Exercise has been shown to be beneficial for improving a person’s mental health. Increased blood flow to the brain created by physical movement can stimulate the entire body which includes making the mind feel better. According the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, “Evidence has suggested that exercise may be an often-neglected intervention in mental health care”. Gardening is a hands-on hobby that supports overall health, the rewards are countless, and gardening is the perfect way to work your entire body.
The public health crisis created by COVID-19 has resulted in a growing number of New Jersey residents with heightened interest in home gardening. In addition to providing fresh food or home beautification, gardens also offer physical and emotional benefits, space for tranquility and relaxation, family-friendly activities, and more. For more information on home gardening for the entire family visit Rutgers Cooperative Extension’s Home, Lawn and Garden website at njaes.rutgers.edu/home-lawn-garden
Lift objects, even lighter ones, by bending
at the knees and hips to a squatting position
and use the legs to help lift the weight
protecting the back