Gardening for Calm, Peace and Exercise
Gardening is Mary Lassiter’s stress reliever, and the rewards are many, the Dallas gardener says.
“I started gardening last year because life in Dallas was beginning to stress me out,” she says. “When I put my hands in the dirt, I get a natural euphoric feeling, the stress of daily life just doesn’t exist—I’m surrounded by beauty that I created out of nothing!”
Lassiter is a member of the Facebook group North Texas Vegetable Gardeners. She and her fellow gardeners trade tips, help identify friendly bugs and pests, and provide encouragement to new gardeners. For members of the group, the produce they grow is just one benefit of the hobby.
“I find gardening soothing, a feeling of accomplishment when I get to harvest my fresh vegetables,” says Shannon Taylor of Mineral Wells. “It gives me time to not think of anything, and I like the feeling of the earth in my hands.”
“It’s very relaxing to me,” Richardson mom Carrie Ann McKinney says. “I stay home with my kids all day and my husband works 60-plus hours a week, so it’s a great way for me to unwind and just have a place to think, but somewhere my kids can be with me as well.”
McKinney says that spending time with her children in the garden reaps both good food and bonding time. It’s also a great way to de-stress, she says.
“Working in the garden definitely helps with stress,” she says. “I’m not sure if it’s the fresh air, lack of technology, or knowing it’s something that’s been passed down from generation to generation, but I always feel so much better after working in the garden.”
“I feel pride when I grow food we can eat. It’s calming,” Veronica Hernandez of Dallas says. “I have PTSD and gardening makes me happy and hopeful.”
“The garden is an environment where we experience, we experiment, we learn (often by our mistakes), we produce, we carry on old traditions, we contribute to better health, we share our experience with others,” Cathy Dent of Point says. “We use many of our muscles and build core strength, endurance and agility.”
Gardening, as Dent mentions, can be great exercise. Things like pulling weeds and planting plants can burn anywhere from 200 to 400 calories per hour. More labor-intensive work like landscaping or moving dirt or rocks can burn 400 to 600 calories. It’s also a workout that provides endurance, flexibility and strength exercises.
And as with any form of exercise, warming up and stretching can help muscles get ready for work. Experts also recommend treating gardening just like any other form of exercise—which means you need to warm up and stretch before starting a project.
“If you go out there cold, you’re risking injury,” said Randy Turner, the manager of the Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth Fitness Center. “The recommendations now are to get your muscles a little warm, and then stretch before and after any activity.”
Deidre Dann of Corinth found that out first hand when she began suffering from back spasms after gardening in her small raised bed garden that was very low to the ground.
“I was suffering from back spasms and couldn’t garden for a few years due to the strain and stress on my back from bending over and reaching,” she explains. “My wonderful husband built three taller beds so I wouldn’t have to bend over so far or reach so far to weed, prune and care for the plants.”
“The key to getting over back spasms is A LOT of stretching,” she added. “Being able to garden again and expand my garden has brought more peace and joy back into my life.”
For Steve Fleming of Richardson, ankylosing spondylitis means chronic pain. But he says gardening is what keeps him going. “Gardening is my companion, my hobby, and my legacy to my grandchildren who help me when they visit,” he says. “It’s my lesson to anyone that knows me to keep going, keep fighting, and defy this illness that tries its best to keep me in my chair and say ‘I hurt too bad’ or ‘I’m too old to do that anymore.’”
“My garden is my victory! Harvesting the vegetables and flowers is just icing on the cake.”
“My father has been gardening most of his life—he is 84 years old,” says Angela Wiggins of Dallas. “Most of the winter, he just sits in his recliner, tired—but once spring arrives, he starts getting his garden ready by tilling and rowing.
“It is good exercise for him—I believe that by walking through the garden, it helps strengthen his leg muscles by balancing himself in the uneven dirt,” Wiggins continues. “He can take breaks whenever he needs to, so it all works out as a benefit to his health.
“When I say health, I mean physical and mental health—gardening relaxes him. It makes him happy, and the smile on his face when he is picking tomatoes is priceless!”
Since gardening can use muscles you might not be used to flexing, checking with your doctor about any potential limitations to your new hobby is a good idea, the Centers for Disease Control says.
The CDC also recommends being up to date on vaccinations—adults should have a tetanus shot every 10 years. Stay hydrated, and plan for frequent water breaks. Use an insect repellent, and remember that the hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. are the peak hours for UV exposure—so reapply sunscreen frequently and consider a wide-brimmed hat.
Are you ready to garden? Need to check with a primary care physician first? If you are looking for a doctor, Texas Health Resources offers an easy-to-use tool, or you can call 1-877-THR-WELL for assistance.