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ACTIVE LIVING: Gardening plants the seed for a healthy future

Sandra Gentleman, RD, is a Port Alberni-based registered dietitian
Sandra Gentleman is a registered dietitian working in Port Alberni, B.C. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Gardening may be one of the healthiest pastimes for people.

Studies have shown that the health benefits of gardening go far beyond increasing your intake of vegetables and fruits. Raking, mowing, weeding and hoeing all help a person’s waistline as a regular physical workout. Research has demonstrated that people who garden tend to have healthier lifestyles and move more, reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke by 27 percent and decreasing mortality risk by 30 percent. These are encouraging numbers that researchers in Sweden published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Digging in the dirt can cut cholesterol and triglyceride levels, along with reducing blood sugar levels and cardiovascular events.

Brain function can also improve with gardening. Studies looking at brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the blood show that this important chemical in the body increases after tasks associated with gardening. Memory function is improved and gardening can be therapeutic.

Vegetable gardening may help cancer survivors eat better by increasing their intake of plant-based foods and improving feelings of self worth. With the activity of yard work, gardeners (who are cancer survivors) gained less belly fat compared to those who didn’t garden. These participants also had lower stress markers overall.

By working in the earth and getting your hands dirty, the soil’s microorganisms can help bolster your immune system, according to the “hygiene hypothesis.”

With their early exposure to a diverse set of microbes and bacteria, children who grow up on farms have fewer allergies, respiratory illnesses and asthma, due to being around soil, hay, manure and a barnyard full of a variety of microorganisms.

Symptoms of depression may be helped, along with decreasing stress and increasing mood for added personal benefits.

Planting a seed offers a ray of hope for the future, and one that you won’t regret.

Sandra Gentleman, RD, is a Port Alberni-based registered dietitian. Her Active Living column will appear every few weeks in the Alberni Valley News and online at