Health Benefits of Gardening

Often for this blog, I get to write posts about physical activity (the benefits, how to get started, or fun ways to be active). It’s definitely no secret that I am a lover of physical activity and I occasionally try to convince my coworkers to participate in physical activity challenges offered by our human resources office. Recently, I was talking with a coworker about one of these challenges and she let me know that she didn’t think she would be much help to the team. Knowing she is an avid gardener, I reminded her that time spent in the garden would be considered physical activity and she was surprised. Which got me thinking, do many people not think of gardening as being physically active? 

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So, for today, I thought we could talk a bit about gardening and all the wonderful benefits it can bring to your life! To start, gardening typically involves movement and is great for the body. Being in the garden might include bending, stretching, walking, lifting, and a variety of other movements that are beneficial for your body and your health. Also, gardening is often done outside, so it gives us the opportunity to soak up some sunlight and increase our Vitamin D levels. Finally, for many people, gardening is much more enjoyable than going to the gym. And since it is fun, people are more likely to do it. So, gardening can be an easy and fun way to increase the amount of time you spend being physically active. 

The benefits of gardening don’t stop with your body, they extend to your mind as well! Studies have shown that people who see and spend time around plants and gardens (often called green space) experience less anxiety, depression, and stress. In fact, one study found that daily gardening lowered dementia risk by 36%. Finally, AARP mentions that gardening can be a great way to reduce loneliness. Participating in community gardens or other group gardening programs can help people feel connected to others. This can be a great way to help your community and get to know others. 

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So, what can you do with this information? Well, if you think you might like gardening, try it out in small ways. Get a houseplant, start an indoor herb garden, and see if you enjoy tending those things. If you have a little bit more space, you could consider moving on to a window box, hanging basket, or small container garden (there are lots of tutorials online for this sort of thing). It may not be an option for everyone, but you could even plant a large outdoor garden with whatever vegetables you and your family enjoy, if you have the time and space. You may or may not be aware, but you can even get involved with your local extension office! Extension offices across the country operate Master Gardener programs. You could go to one of the classes they offer and learn more about gardening. Or, you could complete the training to become a Master Gardener yourself, and join a community of folks who love to garden and teach others about gardening!

The level to which you participate in gardening is totally up to you, but if gardening is something you like or think you might like, find ways to incorporate it into your life. It could have a host of benefits beyond the beautiful flowers or tasty things you grow. 

Ideas for Cooking as a Family

Thinking about kids in the kitchen might bring to mind images of piles of dirty dishes, flour strewn across counters, and a general mess. But kids are capable of doing more in the kitchen than just making a mess! Getting kids involved in cooking family meals can be an important way to build healthy habits. Involving kids in cooking at home may help motivate them to try new foods. Additionally, research shows that cooking meals at home and eating them as a family might be a positive impact on children’s diets*. So, if we know cooking at home with our kids can be so beneficial, how do we make it happen? 

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  • Start when kids are young and start with small tasks. 
    • A preschooler might be able to hang out in the kitchen while dinner is being prepared, rather than playing in another area. And, they could help with simple tasks like putting toppings on a pizza, stirring things, or turn pages in a recipe book. 
    • They could also help count things being used in recipes, like eggs as they are being cracked. 
    • If kids get used to the idea of being around and helping prepare meals, it may be easier to keep them involved as they get older. 

Even if kids are older and have not been in the kitchen much, there are still ways to get them involved! 

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  • Rely on things your kids already find interesting. 
    • For example, if kids enjoy reading you could try making food mentioned in their book. There are even books like How to Feed Your Parents and Rainbow Stew that include recipes for the meals mentioned in the books. 
    • Or maybe your kids are interested in television shows like Master Chef Junior, Chopped, or the Great British Baking Show. If so, they might be interested in attempting recipes from the show or trying to develop their own creative recipes. 
    • You might have to do a bit of research to see if there are any fun recipes in the shows, books, or other media your kids enjoy, but connecting cooking to something they already love can help get them interested! 
  • Include them when planning meals for the week. This might not work for younger kids without some restrictions (unless you want ice cream for every meal). But, especially for older kids, giving them some say in what goes on the menu might help them feel more excited about getting dinner on the table. 
    • For even older kids, you might be able to make cooking dinner a chore you assign (if that is something your family does). At first, they may need parental assistance, but as they build their cooking skills they could get to the point where they can cook a meal for the entire family on their own!

Hopefully, these helpful tips and strategies give you some ideas about how to include your family in cooking meals. Just remember that kids should only be asked to do things appropriate for their age and that most kids (especially younger kids) will need parental supervision to ensure there are no accidents! 

Happy cooking!

* Rockett HR. Family dinner: more than just a meal. J Am Diet Assoc. 2007;107: 1498-1501.