5 Health Benefits of Gardening

Fertile new research proves that you reap what you sow.

By Jennifer Matlack from Reader's Digest | June 2004

When parenting two teens sends stress levels soaring, Janet Jemmott, 44, of Kent Cliffs, New York, makes a beeline for her vegetable garden. “Checking on the size of my cucumbers, picking a ripe tomato, even turning my compost relieves tension and can head off a migraine,” she says. Research shows that toiling in the soil offers the following health benefits:

Grow Bones. In a 2002 study of 3,310 women, University of Arkansas scientists found that strenuous yard work (pushing a lawn mower, pulling weeds) had the same beneficial effect on bone density as weight training did. High bone density is key in preventing osteoporosis.

Prune Heart Risk. In 2000, researchers in Denmark reported that moderate exercise such as gardening decreased the risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. Aim for at least 30 minutes a day.

Nourish the Mind. Exercising mind and body has been proved to reduce dementia risk. Gardening does both. It’s an excellent mental workout that requires planning and foresight and encourages learning, says neuropsychologist Paul Nussbaum.

Weed Out Diabetes. A 2002 Dutch study found that male gardeners were more likely to have lower blood sugar levels. And a University of Alabama study of 505 men and women with type 2 diabetes found that active people, including those who gardened regularly, reduced or eliminated their need for medication.

Clip Calories. A 150-pound person burns 162 calories pruning, digging or weeding for 30 minutes. Kids benefit too. A 2003 study showed that noncompetitive activities like gardening lure children away from a sedentary lifestyle. And they learn about biology and nutrition, says researcher C. Lawrence Kien. A recent Texas A&M study found kids who gardened 30 minutes a week were more likely to eat vegetables.