Growing for Health

How plants and gardening help us live a longer, healthier, happier, more sustainable life

Concerns about our health and the environment are at an all-time high and for good reasons. Chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and auto-immune conditions that were once hardly heard of are now commonplace, the planet is in crisis and many species of insects and animals are disappearing at an alarming rate.

Our way of life is so far removed from that of our ancestors it is little wonder that our health is out of kilter.

Much of our time is spent indoors, often in front of screens. The food we eat is processed at worst and depleted in nutrients at best, due to farming and harvesting techniques, travelling long distances and spending time in storage.

We move a lot less than we would have done as hunter/gatherers and we often live relatively isolated lives, especially those who are old, disabled or working from home.

Add in money pressures and the stresses of everyday life, which can rob us of proper sleep, and it’s a recipe for disaster in terms of our health and happiness.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed; the scale of it is almost too much to take in. We’re told of the challenges but feel helpless in the face of them. After we’ve cut down on plastic use, done our re-cycling and up-cycling, cut down on and travel and reduced meat consumption, what else can we do? 

Where plants and soil fit in

Everything starts with the soil. It is so much more than just dirt, yet we so often ignore its importance. It is where plants get their nutrients and where we, in turn, get our nutrients, Yet modern farming practices have gradually depleted the world’s soil over the years, until not only are they horribly deficient and eroded, it is estimated we have only 60 harvests left. 

Soil should be teeming with life as well as nutrients. A teaspoon of healthy soil is said to contain more microorganisms than there are people on the planet. These microbes also support plant health and vigour and if we are gardening in healthy soil they can support our own microbiome. A highly fertile soil is also an efficient carbon sink. We should be nurturing our soils for our own health and the planet, as well as to have plants that flourish.

Plants are essential to life on earth. They support us, they support wildlife, they give out oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide. They provide food and pleasure and are the lungs of the earth.  

What you can do

If you have some outside space, whatever the size, you can use it in a targeted way to grow some of your own, highly nutritious produce by growing it organically and in highly fertile and nutritious soil.

By planning what you grow, you can be picking some of your own produce right the way throughout the year, regardless of whether you are experienced or a complete beginner. You can also use some of your outside space to create a haven for wildlife, which they desperately need. 

This does all need thought and planning which is where the Growing for Health e-book and talks come in. Regardless of expertise, space or time available, the 60 page, fully referenced e-book will guide you through what you can do in a easy to follow manner, even if you haven’t got a garden at all!

5 ways gardening can improve your health

There are many ways that your garden, no matter what size,
can benefit you and the planet. In this first part we will look at the ways
just being around plants and in your garden can have a beneficial impact on
your overall health.

  1. Improved mood and decreased stress

We spend an unnatural amount of time indoors – very far
removed from how our distant ancestors would have lived. Getting out in nature
– or just in your back garden – has been found to help mental health and
weelbeing in a number of ways:

Reduced cortisol levels (stress)

Decrease in depression/better mood

Improved life satisfaction

Better feeling of self esteem

Small scale studies in the US have also shown gardening to
be helpful for people with dementia. And just being in an attractive garden can
lift your mood – you can even fine tune it by choosing particular colours. For
example, blues, whites and greens are calming and peaceful whereas red is
stimulating and yellow is uplifting.

Even just having a planted tub either side of your front door
can lift your spirits before you even get into the house and makes your home
more welcoming.

Scented plants can impact mood and lower stress levels. Findings of a large scale study conducted by Yale University’s psychophysiology Department fragrance from plants can have a positive impact on fatigue, migraine headaches, pain, food cravings, insomnia, depression, memory loss and even sexual dysfunction! Clove-like scents (eg pinks, wallflowers, and stocls have been shown to aid relaxation and boost mood.

2. Vitamin D levels

Vitamin D deficiency is recognised as a big problem with
over half the population having sub-optimal levels and a reported 27% of people
in the UK being deficient. As well as spending a large proportion of our lives
inside, we have been encouraged to slather on sun screen before we so much as
think of going outside on a sunny day.

Whilst it is definitely not good to burn, it is essential to
expose as much skin as possible to the sun – without sunscreen – for between
15-30 minutes per day at least 3 times per week. The higher the sun is in the
sky, the less time is needed. In the summer months this will hopefully be
achieveable but in the winter the sun is lower in the sky and we have a real
danger of being deficient in this vital nutrient, especially those who are
darker skinned.

Ideally you’d get all the Vitamin D you needed via sun
exposure and food but if you don’t feel this is happening or just wish to
check, sometimes your doctor will do a test. Failing this there are finger
prick tests available online.

Vitamin D deficiency is linked with autoimmune diseases, and some forms of cancer. It is essential for good gut integrity and immune function, as well as efficient calcium absorption and bone health.

3. Better oxygenation

Being outside more increases oxygen levels in the blood which is not only revitalizing, it helps brain function and is thought to increase the release of serotonin. It can also reduce blood pressure, improve immune and lung function and reduce fatigue.

4. Contact with the soil (Earthing)

The soil contains millions of micro-organisms, many of which
can be beneficial to human health. We live in such a sanitised environment this
has been shown to have a detrimental impact on out gut microbiome. Keeping this
balanced and healthy is fundamental to good health.

Several studies have also shown that contact with the soil has
a ‘grounding’ effect. Having contact with the earth (eg walking barefoot on the
grass or beach or gardening) has been shown in some small scale studies to
positively impact health in several ways:

  • Speed healing
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Relieve tension
  • Improve sleep
  • Increases energy
  • Reduce blood viscosity

You can get the benefits by having contact with the soil by gardening without gloves and/or sitting or walking outside with bare feet. It may be my imagination but if I sit outside in the summer with my bare feet on the lawn it seems to have an immediate calming effect.

5. Flexibility and exercise

Exercise of any kind has been shown to benefit health. Studies from the so-called Blue Zones have shown that areas in the world where there is a higher than average proportion of the population living well over the age of 100 tend to spend a good amount of time outdoors and rather than working out in the gym their main exercise regime involves housework, gardening and walking. Gardening involves bending and stretching, lifting and digging and uses many different muscles in a gentle way which stimulates circulation, increases flexibility and doesn’t raise cortisol (stress hormone) levels in the same way as a high intensity exercise program does.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *