In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
October, 2005
Regional Report

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1917

Remember to stop and smell the roses -- it's good for you!

For Body and Mind

By now we've probably all heard the message loud and clear: "Exercise! It's good for you!" Just like your mother used to tell you: "Go outside and play! It's good for you!" I used to tune it all out like a broken record, except as I age I am realizing there is a ring of truth to it; it takes a certain amount of focus and determination to make time for regular exercise. Recommendations of 30 minutes a day at least 5 days a week "to start" can seem overwhelming in the midst of a busy schedule with family and work and household responsibilities.

Burn Calories
I've decided that whatever activity I opt for had better deliver. Given the choice between climbing stairs for 15 minutes, or washing windows or floors for 45 minutes, or spending 30 to 45 minutes gardening, there is no doubt which activity I would choose. In fact, these activities are among the examples of moderate exercise listed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/lose_wt/phy_act.htm). Their handy chart lists gardening chores such as hoeing and weeding or raking leaves as moderate activities; heavy manual digging as a high activity; and yard work as a low activity, in terms of physical exertion.

It's hard for me to think of gardening in such clinical terms, but I do know that gardening never feels like time begrudgingly allotted to a boring drudgery of required exercise. Instead, the time passes all too quickly! And the side benefits are immeasurable.

Relieve Stress
I enjoy the fresh air and sunshine, the soft yielding of grass or mulch under my feet, the scent of flowers or fresh-picked fruit, the crunch and goodness of homegrown veggies, the feel of newly turned earth. I never think of burning calories or building muscle as I methodically rake or plant, spread mulch, or turn compost. It feels good to be outdoors and moving along, and to think about ... nothing.

The complete relaxation of gardening is what appeals to me. That alone is a huge wellness factor, critical for my mental health and overall well-being, aside from the significant physical benefits. Horticultural therapists know well that viewing trees or plants lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, and relieves muscle tension. No surprises there!

It's quiet outside except for the calling of birds, the scratchety racket of squirrels darting back and forth through the undergrowth, the breeze rustling through the ornamental grasses. Sometimes I hear crickets chirping, or I notice the gentle hum as I pass by drunken bees snoozing in a flower bed, or turn at the sound of rustling leaves and wonder what creature has passed my way. I relish the wind on my face, the sun on my back, and the calm rhythm of working through to dusk, when the bats rise and begin their swooping journey across the night sky. Then it's time to head for home, put away the tools, reflect on a job well done, and wash up for supper.

That washing up is the worst thing about gardening. My shoes and fingernails are always such a mess!


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