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Why growing your own could boost your health

Tags: exercise , outdoors

Why growing your own could boost your healthFeel better when you’re outdoors and hate gyms? Why not get an allotment to boost your health instead? While Camilla Swain from the mental health charity ‘Mind’ explains why greens and green activities are good for your mood, personal trainer Fiona Bugler advises on how to turn gardening into a work-out.

Maybe it’s a reaction against our indoor/online lifestyles but the simple outdoor pleasure of gardening is definitely back in vogue.

New interest in eating locally-sourced foods, the need to save money and the satisfaction of growing your own foods are just some of the reasons why the demand for allotments is rocketing.

Increasingly experts say that gardening is not only enjoyable but also has tangible health benefits for gardeners too, both physically and mentally.

Why gardening can keep you young

Young at heart
New research from the University of Texas has found that only 57 per cent of gardeners over 50 felt ’old’ compared with 71 per cent of non-gardeners.

More active
The same study found gardeners also had more energy and took more daily exercise.

Happier and better organised
Gardeners were also more likely to plan and organise a schedule for the weeks and months ahead, indicating they were mentally active; they also scored higher in ‘life satisfaction’ ratings.

Eat their greens
A second study conducted by the University of Texas also shows that gardeners had healthier lifestyles than non-gardeners and also ate more vegetables than non-gardeners, regardless of whether they grew their own. 

Boost your mood

“There’s just something about being outdoors in nature that has an incredibly calming effect on the mind,” says Camilla Swain, spokesperson for the mental health charity Mind’s Ecominds projects.

“Being engaged in a project or task outdoors helps people to switch off from their worries and escape the day-to-day pressures which may be causing stress.

“This has been backed up in research studies which have found that activities like gardening and working on conservation projects can boost mood and self-esteem, and alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.”

Research which Mind commissioned on ecotherapy at the University of Essex found that 94 per cent of people involved in green exercise projects, which included gardening and conservation projects, with local Mind groups said their mental health had benefited from green exercise activities. 

Get a green work-out

Don’t underestimate the physical benefits of an afternoon spent digging, planting, weeding, raking and pruning outdoors. Personal trainer Fiona Bugler says time in the garden can help build muscle strength, increase joint mobility and improve flexibility, as well as encouraging the use of muscle groups you don’t normally use, burning calories, strengthening your bones and helping to strengthen your core.
 
Work your muscles: “It’s important to be mindful about how you are using your body,” advises Fiona; “you can incorporate movements like lunges into digging and stretches into pruning.”
When you bend down to weed, protect your back from injury and work your core muscles by pulling your navel towards your spine and contracting the lower abdominals as if being held in by a belt. And try to remember to stand up from a kneeling position without using your hands to strengthen your leg muscles.
 
Carrying and lifting heavy sacks can help build muscle strength and boost your bone density, just like a resistance work-out at the gym.
It’s also important to warm up before you plunge straight into gardening. This will reduce the chances of developing aches and pains later on (also known as Delayed Muscle Onset Soreness – DOMS).
 
Burn calories: You can also burn a lot of calories, especially in cold weather; strenuous digging can burn up to 197 calories an hour for men or 150 for women.
 
Work your heart: “Wear a heart monitor if you’re keen to make sure you are exercising in the aerobic zone. Aim to get your heart working at 65 to 75 per cent of its maximum rate,“ explains Fiona Bugler; “you can work out the maximum by deducting your age away from 220 beats per minute (for example, if you’re 40, your max is 180).”
 
Walk 10,000 steps: Using a pedometer to count steps is another way of motivating yourself to work harder and be more active; we’re all told to aim for 10,000 steps a day. 

Rent an allotment: Contact your local council to find out if there are vacancies or put your name on the waiting list. Expect to pay anything between £30 and £110 a year for a full plot. Some local councils have introduced ‘plot sharing’ to ease waiting times. Useful information about allotments is available on the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners website.

Dig up your garden: Start a vegetable patch in your back garden using raised beds or just concentrate on flowerbeds – it doesn’t really matter what you grow or where. The Royal Horticultural Society has some great planting tips and videos.

Join a gardening club: They’re a great way to boost your practical skills and knowledge base, as well as for meeting like-minded people. For more details of clubs in your area, contact the Royal Horticultural Society.

You don’t even need a garden: It’s amazing what you can cram into a sunny window box, grow bag, hanging basket or kitchen window sill. Try trailing tomatoes, chilli peppers, herbs and salad leaves for the best results.

Find out about Ecominds projects: Set up by Mind and dotted all over the country, they include gardening and conservation projects.

Do you have an allotment or vegetable patch? We would love to hear about it - leave a comment below.

Find out more

National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners - www.nsalg.org.uk

The Royal Horticultural Society - www.rhs.org.uk

Mind Ecominds projects - www.mind.org.uk/ecominds

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