This page contains a Flash digital edition of a book.
Cultivating Your Health Why gardening is good for you

By Victoria Winterton

our health. We do many things “for our health” – we reduce our salt intake or get enough sleep. But could we make a case to say that we garden because we are just plain healthier for doing it? When we define “health” to include physical, mental,


emotional and spiritual components, I think we can. It is not only the results of gardening – like fresh produce for our consumption – but the actual activity of garden- ing that is good for every aspect of our health and well- being. Consider the benefits of physical activity. New research

is clarifying the importance of activity in our general physical health. Yes, we need to have 30 minutes of activity at least five days a week that increases our heart rate – like a brisk walk or a workout at the gym. But in addition, we also need to NOT “just sit”. The number of hours we spend “just sitting” each day is an indepen- dent risk factor for cardiovascular disease. So even if the gentle work of gardening does not increase your heart rate (except perhaps when digging up a shrub, or chas- ing an uninvited cat) the walking, stretching, standing and gentle lifting are all activities that mean we are not “just sitting”. Our mental health requires attention too, and that

includes our moods, our level of stress and our cogni- tion. Psychological research has shown that peoples’ moods are more positive when they are around flow- ers. Flowers make us smile. The reasons are complex – and no specific reason has been proven. Perhaps in our evolutionary journey we knew that we were safer, more likely to have access to a good food supply, if flowering plants were nearby. Over the past few years we are seeing an increase in

childhood mental health concerns – more problems with attention, more depression and anxiety. Some researchers have suggested this is related to the reduc- tion in the amount of time that children today spend in the natural world. When it comes to a choice between a game on a screen and a quiet walk in the woods, the screen usually wins out. Yet, we humans need connec- tion to the natural world in order to grow and thrive. Though not an official diagnosis, the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” is being used to describe children’s behaviours and moods that may stem from this lack

he reasons we garden are as diverse as are gardeners themselves, yet I wonder how many of us would say we garden because it is good for

of connection to the outdoors. So, whenever possible, take a child along with you to smell a rose, dig in the dirt or look at an interesting bug – even if it is one that is chomping your favourite perennial. As we age we face other kinds of mental health

challenges and I’m sure anyone over 50 can relate to the frustration of the ‘senior’s moment’. Studies have shown that continuing to stimulate our brain with new learning reduces the risk of cognitive decline. What better way to work our brain cells than to practice remembering those Latin names for common plants, or learn about the vast array of botanical variation that exists even in our own back yard. Did you know that the centre of a common daisy is actually made up of hundreds of separate flowers, that the iconic white ‘petals’ that we pick to find out if he/she loves me or not, are not just petals, but adapted whole flowers. The true simple petals of the plant are on the tiny flowers on the centre. Learning something new, like botany, exercises our brains. Finally we can consider our spiritual health. Stop for

a moment, take a slow deep breath and look closely at your garden or at a solitary flower. Closely examine it. Take in the detail of what you are seeing, the colours, shapes, textures. Become aware of the scents that are in the air, the sounds of insects or birds, the feeling of the warm sun on your face. Simply look, smell, listen, feel and focus your attention for a few moments on only doing that. Experience your senses. When you do this you are practicing a form of “mind-

fulness”. For some “mindfullness” is a form of medita- tion, for others, it is simply a way of being fully present in this moment – open to what our world offers us. When you take those brief few moments to practice

focused attention, your mind quiets, your breathing and heart rate slow, your muscles relax. You are giving yourself a moment of neural integration that benefits your mind, your body and your spirit. Whether we garden to grow fresh vegetables and

fruit for our tables, or healthy trees for our air, or flow- ers and shrubs for their beauty alone, we are always cultivating our health as we do it. s Victoria Winterton is a Family Physician who has had a

Focused Practice in Mental Health and Psychotherapy for the past twenty five years. Her other main interest is plants, and she is a Master Gardener in Training with the Grey County Master Gardeners of Ontario.

Spring 2016 • 39

Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48