When the late Sarla Bhargava, founder member of the Kitchen Gardens Association of India started this unique organization, she just wanted to grow a healthy plateful. “But early on in her 40 years of association (with it), she came to the conclusion that gardening—the thrill of growing beauty and the taste of fresh produce—translates into tangible happiness. And this she equated to health,” says her daughter Pratima Jhingan, who is based in Delhi and is also an active gardener. Bhargava’s view is now endorsed by health experts, who advocate gardening because there is nothing healthier than working up a good sweat in the dirt.
Gardening provides the regular physical exercise required for prevention of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. It is an effective workout for arthritis sufferers as it works the back, shoulders, arms, fingers and legs.
Get a better workout
Green Gym, a UK-based movement, encourages people to keep fit by working outdoors even as they improve their local environment. When researchers from Green Gym tested a 40-year-old woman, they found that she burnt 30% more calories (392kcal in all) working outdoors than she did in a step aerobics class.
Both activities lasted 1 hour, but the time she spent in her training heart rate zone (this elevated heart rate from exercise improves cardio fitness) was nearly double while gardening—44 minutes versus 24.
Make bones strong
One new study says gardening can give you the biggest bang for your exercise buck in preventing osteoporosis.
Pushing a lawnmower, raking leaves, and lifting a wheelbarrow full of weeds are great weight-bearing exercises. Researchers at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, US, found that women 50 years and older who were active in their gardens had higher bone density readings than those who swam, did aerobics, danced or jogged. And it works across gender, it seems.
Satish Mathur, 68, former director of the horticulture department at Rashtrapati Bhavan, Delhi, says he owes his good health to time in the garden. “I have been hands-on in the garden for the last 49 years and I believe that my joints are healthy today only because of all that bending, cleaning, picking up,” he says. “Tilling, planting, weeding—all get your heart pumping. Today all that hard work is paying up as I stay fit as a fiddle.”
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Of course, it’s your choice—but who wouldn’t prefer weeding a fragrant rose garden to pumping iron in a dank gym smelling of toe jam?
Anecdotal evidence suggests kitchen gardeners generally consume more fruits and vegetables than non-gardeners, since growing your own provides encouragement. Herbs fresh from your garden are a bonus. They enhance flavours substantially, reducing the use of salt, sugar and fat. Living in a high-rise building is no excuse for not growing your own. Terracotta tubs, old buckets, wooden fruit boxes and even sacks make great containers for herbs, greens such as spinach, climbers such as beans, and other vegetables such as tomatoes and broccoli.
Get the kids to help
Involve your children, too, in the garden. If they help grow greens, they’ll help cook and eat them too. Saundra Lorenz and her fellow researchers at Texas A&M University in the US found that when four- and five-year-olds spent 30 minutes a week for eight weeks tending a garden, they were more likely to taste the vegetables they’d gotten to know. Just ensure that your garden is free of pesticides. Learning to love veggies isn’t the only benefit for children. Tending a garden teaches patience and love for nature. It can also be valuable family bonding time.
However, keep children and pets away from iffy plants such as dieffenbachia (dumb cane), crotons and datura—all toxic.
The grass gets greener
Some experts say that just looking at nature can help reduce stress. Plants also enhance productivity in the case of creative work, found an experiment undertaken by the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research. Planning your garden and researching different plants is also a workout for the brain.
And it seems to lift your mood. “It is absolutely magical to see a seed sprout and transform into a plant. If you’ve ever watched a tiny, barely-there seed of celery grow into a thick, juicy plant, you’ll understand what I mean,” says Kanu Somany, a grower of organic veggies, based on the outskirts of Delhi.
Watch your garden grow
Some researchers suggest that watching your garden grow could be a healing process as the body is flooded with neuropeptides that stimulate our immune system. Research at the University of Washington, published recently in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, showed that when people spent more time looking at a natural scene, their heart rates tended to decrease. That was not the case with a plasma screen!
Somany says she has spent time at her family’s farm since she was a child—and wouldn’t trade this life for any other. “I also realize that I get my vitamin D (from the sun) during my time outdoors,” she says. And add to that the capacity of light to counter seasonal depression brought on by grey, wintry smog.
• New to gardening? Take it easy till you are comfortable workingan entirely different set of muscles
• While you pick up your daily dose of vitamin D, make sure you don’t get sunburnt. Remember that sunscreen lotion and make sure it is at least SPF 15
• Bending and lifting weights can spell trouble for your back. So, kneel rather than bend. That’s kinder to the spine
• Switch chores after about 10 minutes to avoid repetitive stress injury. For instance, if you must mow the lawn, you need not do it all in a day. Combine it with raking leaves, deadheading flowers or simply gazing at the garden for a few minutes
• Using tools such as a rake? Lengthen the handle so that you don’t hunch too far forward. Change the tool from one hand to another to work both arms
• Lift tubs only if you must. Ideally, ease them on to a low trolley and push them around if you can. Dry tubs are lighter than those with wet mud, so schedule work accordingly. If you need to shift your tubs frequently and you don’t have help, go for the lightest material, even if it’s not too aesthetic. Plastic scores the highest here. Cement tubs get a thumbs down
• Protect your eyes from the sun with UV-coated shades. They also keep the dust or parts of dry leaves from flying into your eyes
Benita Sen, our Planters’ Club columnist, also contributed to this story.
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Need help getting started on your garden? Try these centres.
• National Botanical Research Institute, Rana Pratap Marg, Post Box No. 436, Lucknow-226 001, Uttar Pradesh; Tel: 0522-2205831-35, Ext- 208, 209
• Contact Meena Singh, The Indian Society of Cacti and Succulents (ISOCS), A162, Sector 40, Noida-201 303, Uttar Pradesh
• Contact Bella Gupta, Kitchen Gardens Association of India, C-40, Gulmohar Park, New Delhi (26532495). They have centres across India. Call the Delhi office for information.
• Green Gym, Purely to fertilize your enthusiasm, visit www.btcv.org/greengym
If you think snoring is bad for your health, think again. Researchers at Israel’s Technion Institute have found that the nocturnal snorts, whistles and wheezes can give you a long and healthy life, particularly if you are aged above 65. This is because short bursts of hypoxia—interrupted breathing—actually have a protective effect on the elderly by conditioning their cardiovascular system to cope with lack of oxygen. This means that when oxygen supplies are cut off, as in a heart attack or stroke, the body is better able to cope, the team concluded.
The study, however, has found that sleep apnoea does not have the same effect in younger people—in fact, middle-aged men in particular are at a higher risk of heart disease, ‘Daily Mail’ reported. PTI
Plenty of vigorous exercise can cut a healthy, older woman’s breast cancer risk by 30% , researchers at the National Cancer Institute of the US National Institutes of Health have concluded. A study of at least 30,000 post-menopausal women showed that strenuous activity—ranging from housework, such as scrubbing floors, to running—protected against breast cancer even among those who do not have a higher risk. Interestingly, the study found that non-vigorous activity, such as light housework, walking, hiking and easy jogging, did not seem to offer any protection against breast cancer. Reuters