When you plant a garden, pull weeds or mow the lawn, you’re not just getting chores out of the way – you’re improving your mental and physical health.
Throughout the month of June, we’ve been encouraging our friends in the Parkinson’s community to get outside and have some fun!
There are myriad health benefits to being outside. Spending time outdoors evokes a multi-sensory experience that improves our health both mentally and physically.
It’s as if we as humans have this innate tendency to seek connections with nature and be amongst other living, growing things – at least that’s what led famed biologist Edward O. Wilson to coin the term biophilia.
Gardening or doing yard work in general is an excellent outdoor activity because it serves a number of purposes. You’re accomplishing your chores while getting exercise, and if you plant a garden, you’re saving money by growing your own food. When you look at it that way, gardening is one of the ultimate forms of self-care.
Here are some unexpected benefits of gardening for people with Parkinson’s.
You’re burning serious calories.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you can burn about 330 calories doing one hour of light gardening and yard work. In fact, you can burn more calories gardening than you can walking at a moderate pace for the same amount of time.
A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that people who participated in a community gardening program had significantly lower body mass indexes (BMIs) than those who didn’t.
Like any other moderate to intense physical activity, you’ll want to pace yourself, listen to your body if it wants to rest, and always have plenty of water on hand.
You’re keeping your blood pressure in line.
As we’ve already learned, just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity three to five days a week can improve Parkinson’s symptoms. It can also curb high blood pressure. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends doing 30-45 minutes of yard work to help lower your blood pressure.
One study conducted in Sweden found that regular gardening reduces the risk for heart attacks or stroke by up to 30% for those over 60 years old.
Bonus: Getting just 10 minutes of sunlight outside each day will supply you with enough vitamin D to greatly reduce the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis and other diseases. But don’t forget to put on sunscreen!
It’s one of few chores that actually reduces stress.
Pulling weeds, planting seeds or pushing a lawn mower may seem like arduous work, but once you get into the zone so to speak, it can be oddly relaxing.
A study conducted in The Netherlands asked two participating groups to complete a stressful task. Afterward, group one was asked to garden for 30 minutes, while group two read indoors. Not only did the gardening group report better moods than the reading group, they had noticeably lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
It improves hand dexterity and tremors.
Gardening keeps your hands busy, which leads to more flexible and agile hand muscles, which could potentially lower stiffness and tremoring. It also improves cognition because your brain is constantly telling your hands to do different tasks.
In fact, gardening has been used in hospital rehabilitation programs for stroke patients to help them reacclimate and prepare for more complicated tasks like tying shoelaces.
That said, you don’t want to push your hands too far. Gardening can also lead to carpal tunnel, tendonitis, arthritis and cramping. Change up your tasks frequently or try using your non-dominant hand to relieve stress on the hands while boosting brain function.
Growing your own food makes you want to eat healthier.
Gardening helps people develop a lasting habit of eating more fruits and vegetables, according to a study from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. You’re also more likely to try new foods and add variety to your diet.
Keep in mind that the fresher the produce, the better it tastes. You know how buying fruits and veggies at your local farmer’s market leads to higher-quality meals with fresher ingredients compared to buying frozen or canned produce? Well, nothing’s fresher than eating something straight from your home garden. Not only is it jam-packed with vital nutrients, food just tastes better when you grow it yourself.
Quick tips for gardeners with Parkinson’s
1. Stretch before and after gardening. Yard work can make anyone stiff and sore, especially hunching over a garden, and this is especially true for people with PD.
2. Planting vegetables and herbs in raised beds can help relieve pressure on the joints. It also helps to place a cushion under your knees if you plan on being low to the ground for extended lengths of time.
3. Consider joining a community gardening group. Not only is gardening a fun activity to do solo, it’s even better when you can split the work and share the bounty with others. You may even pick up a few good tricks from veteran gardeners.