The health benefits of playing in the dirt

If you’re looking to take up a healthy hobby but aren’t quite brave enough for rock climbing, and you don’t want to risk your joints with competitive marathon running, then consider something easy you can do right in your own backyard: Gardening. The advantages of taking up gardening are many—for starters, you’ll get a dose of fresh air and sunshine. And, the outcome will be a bevy of fresh, pesticide-free produce that will fill many a dinner plate. Here are some more benefits to your body and soul of becoming a gardener:

  • It’s actually a workout. The National Institutes of Health recommend 30 to 45 minutes of gardening three to five times a week to combat obesity. Think about all the bending, digging, plowing, watering and carrot-taste-testing gardening involves, after all.
  • It boosts your immune system. Studies show that just looking at nature can be a natural immune booster as well as can help lower blood pressure and reduce stress. This means that even if you’re not ready to start your garden yet, or it’s the middle of winter, simply hanging up artwork depicting nature, like beautiful landscapes or flowers, can give you these benefits. Researchers say this is because looking at nature puts your mind in a state similar to meditation.
  • Gardening outside exposes you to sunshine, which helps your body make vitamin D, which counteracts seasonal depression. A 2013 UK study also showed that when sunshine hits our skin, a chemical called nitric oxide is released into our blood vessels and can help reduce our blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

What to Plant

When you’re ready to start your gardening adventure, what should you plant? There are so many healthy fruits, veggies and herbs you could start with, but we picked our top 5 that any starter gardener could attempt and (most likely) pull off.

Basil. It’s an easy plant to grow indoors or out and only requires watering every other day. The sweet-smelling herb is a good source of fiber, can help detoxify the liver and is known to calm nerves, plus, it’s good in everything from pasta to lemonade.

Green beans. They’re full of vitamins A, C and K, as well as potassium, folate, iron and fiber. Plant them in full sun and you’re good to go.

Lettuce. If you get the seed pack that’s a mix of different kinds, you’ll not only have a tastier salad, but also a lot of different vitamins. Plant this one in the spring and fall because lettuce likes cooler temps.

Radishes. Easy to grow and packed with flavor, these spicy vegetables are good in salads and stir-fries. Plus, they’re only about one calorie a piece.

Apples. One a day keeps the doctor away, and that’s because apples are rich in antioxidants, flavonoids (which have anti-inflammatory benefits) and fiber. Apple trees will grow in almost any well-drained soil. Just pick a self-pollinating one, like Golden Delicious, otherwise, you need to get two trees.

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