Gardening offers food, fun and fitness

Gardening offers food, fun and fitness

As I contemplate the germination potential of the poppy seeds atop my bagel, I am already looking forward to an early spring. Cabin fever is a common ailment among gardeners. Winter does give us a chance to reflect on last year's garden. Every spring is a "do over." Gardening is the opportunity to reinvent our yards, but also ourselves for a healthier and happier year.

For many of us, Jan. 1 marks our renewed commitment to exercise more, eat more nutritious food and develop a healthier lifestyle.

What if I told you there is an activity that can provide strength and cardio training and increase flexibility. Plus, the activity can relieve stress and provide nutritious food. You get all that and you don't have to buy an expensive towel rack to do it. No surprise this wonder activity is gardening. Still not convinced? Consider these reasons for gardening in 2014:

Gardening provides the regular physical exercise listed in the prevention of heart disease, obesity, adult-onset diabetes and high blood pressure.

It also provides the strength training important in the prevention of osteoporosis. Put a gallon sprinkling can full of water in each hand and you got your 8 pound dumbbells.

Finish off with lifting a wheelbarrow for a bicep workout. If watering cans and wheelbarrows are too much, no problem; gardening can fit any lifestyle.

With any physical activity, it's best to learn proper techniques. Check with your doctor for any specific concerns.

Gardening provides fresh local fruits and vegetables and the encouragement to eat them. Once you are blessed with a bushel basket of tomatoes, you will have newfound interest in tomato recipes and in sharing your bounty with others. A mother once commented that her young son would never eat peas on his dinner plate, but a quick trip to the garden and he was grazing on peas as quickly as she could pick them. A strawberry picked from your garden always tastes sweeter.

In addition when you grow your own food, you have control over what pesticides or fertilizers are used.

Fresh herbs are also a bonus from the garden. Herbs enhance the flavor of foods, thereby reducing the use of salt and sugar. Most herbs are very easy to grow, and herb growing is one of the best ways to jump into gardening.

Gardening uses your head and your hands. The time spent planning the garden and researching different plants is a great brain workout. Gardening gives us a chance to be creative. Let your personality shine through your garden. Grow something new — hops for beer making or elderberries for wine making. Try "super foods" like goji berries or stevia.

Like walking down the street with a new puppy, gardening connects you with people. Everybody talks to a gardener. It's also a great family activity. Give kids a section of the garden all their own. Some of the best lessons can be learned in the garden, such as delayed gratification and don't leave a rake on the ground with the head pointing upward.

Need a digital detox? Gardening connects us with nature and the rhythm of life. Gardens have their own clocks, and they don't measure nanoseconds. You can't text a tomato or unfriend an onion. Simply viewing nature promotes healthy attitudes.

Gardening can be especially beneficial for people with special needs or those recovering from illness. Gardening promotes an increased range of motion, develops eye-hand coordination, improves motor skills and increases self-esteem.

Have fun gardening. Relax and remember your garden doesn't have to be picture perfect. Resolve to have a garden this year. Whether it's a window box or an acre garden, you will be healthier for it. Remember "gardening is a labor of love. A treadmill is just labor."

Sandra Mason is unit educator, horticulture and environment, for the UI Extension, Champaign County. Contact her with questions or comments at 801 N. Country Fair Drive, Champaign, IL 61821, call 333-7672, email slmason@illinois.edu or fax 333-7683.

Sections (1):Living
Topics (1):Food

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