Gardening can be a great way to enjoy the outdoors for any age.  It stimulates all of the senses, awakens our connection with nature and with each other, and rewards us with fresh flowers and juicy tomatoes. According to the CDC, gardening is an excellent way to get physical activity in our daily routine.  Active people are less likely than inactive people to be obese or have high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke, depression, colon cancer and premature death.  Some general guidelines:

• Be active for at least 21⁄2 hours a week. Include activities that raise your breathing and heart rates and that strengthen your muscles. Help kids and teens be active for at least 1 hour a day.

• If you have been inactive, start out with just a few minutes of physical activity each day. Gradually build up time and intensity.

• Vary your gardening activities to keep your interest and to broaden the range of benefits.

There is increasing awareness among researchers and health practitioners of the potential health benefits resulting from gardening activities, including more individual life satisfaction, stamina, psychological well-being, positive affects, sense of community, and cognitive function and showing reductions in anger, depression and anxiety.  Getting out in the garden at the end of a busy day reduces your stress levels and mental fatigue.

A recently published analysis of scientific studies on how gardening impacts health has some fascinating insights into how digging in the dirt benefits your mind, body, and soul—not just your soil.  Spending time in the dirt can improve your sleep quality. The physical activity tires you out, but more importantly, tending to your garden reduces stress and anxiety levels, meaning you’ll be able to fall asleep easier and experience sweeter dreams.  Gardening gives an individual a sense of worth, promotes nurturing attitudes, creates a feeling of responsibility, and increases attention to task and concentration.

It is never too late to get started.  The ground is warmer, and COM is giving out garden seeds as part of the University of Missouri Grow Well project to provide seed packets to those in need, so that they can grow food for their families.   You can grow your favorite flowers and vegetables by planting them in beautiful containers, using a raised garden bed, or small plots of land.  You might be a container gardener if:

• You are new to gardening and want to start small.

• You only have a patio or porch to grow on.  Or,

• You would rather not spend a lot of time bending and crouching.

Gardening allows individuals and families to have access to fresh, nutritious food that support nutritional health. Eating the nutritious whole foods that you grow is great for heart health.  Wash all fruits and vegetables prior to eating to remove the bacteria that is naturally occurring on the produce.  Gardening can be a great way to enjoy the outdoors; get physically active using both gross and fine motor skills, beautifies the community, and allows us to grow nutritious fruits and vegetables.   For more information on gardening, please contact the Cedar County Extension office at 417-276-3313.