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Health

Gardening might be the most comprehensive workout for your body, mind and spirit

There are so many health benefits to gardening, it's kind of ridiculous.

Photo by Ny Menghor on Unsplash

Gardening is a full-body workout.

May in the Northern Hemisphere means gardening season kicks into full swing. Both expert and amateur gardeners are consulting their Plant Hardiness Zones Map (which has changed this. year, by the way) and heading out to their local plants shops to buy vegetable and flower starters, fillings spots amid perennials that are popping up and seedlings started earlier indoors.

Gardening is an enjoyable hobby for some and a dietary necessity for others, but no matter what motivates you to tend a garden, there's no question that it's good for you. In fact, gardening might just be the best exercise there is for overall health.


Anyone who's worked in their yard knows it's surprisingly physical. We have these visions of old people puttering around in their gardens, but that "puttering" is actually a solid workout. Pulling weeds and digging holes may not give you jacked biceps and a snatched waist, but when it comes to the kinds of recommended exercise that can help you live a longer, healthier life, it's hard to beat gardening.

Here are some of the physical, mental and spiritual health benefits of gardening:

Gardening is good for your heart

The Centers for Disease Control consider gardening an official form of exercise, and according to the Mayo Clinic, you might burn as many calories during a busy gardening session as you do at the gym. It's recommended that people get 150 minutes a week of cardiovascular exercise, so gardening for half an hour five days a week will tend both your plants and. your heart.

Gardening has also been shown to lower stress levels. Chronic stress is a significant risk factor for heart disease, gardening can help mitigate that risk.

woman in gardening gloves squatting next to a garden bed

Squatting and pulling are just two ways gardening works your muscles.

Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash

Gardening works every major muscle group

According to Maryland Primary Care Physicians, "Digging, lifting bags of mulch and pushing wheelbarrows all provide strength training similar to weight lifting, which leads to healthier bones and joints." Such activities work every major muscle group—legs, buttocks, arms, shoulders, neck, back and abdomen.

One thing gardening has going for it over other forms of exercise is that most of that muscle work is low-impact, so you get the benefit of a good workout without jarring and stress on your joints.

Gardening can help keep your brain sharp

Those of us who haven't gardened much might assume that it's a pretty basic activity—put plants in dirt, water them sometimes, and voila! A garden. Alas, it's not that simple at all, but the complexity of it actually part of why it's so good for your brain. There are thousands of plants, each with their own specifications for growing and thriving. You have to know about soil composition, you have to take humidity levels, temperatures and sunlight into consideration, and as the weather changes you have to adjust and problem-solve to get the most out of your garden. Perhaps that's one reason why a study found that daily gardening is associated with a 36% reduced risk of dementia.

Gardening is good for overall mental health

In the digital age of constant distractions pulling our attention in a million different directions, gardening can offer a much-needed respite. As Penn State Master Gardener Kayla Oaster writes, "Connecting with the natural world, in general, helps relieve people from attention fatigue. Gardening is a great hands-on experience with nature. Working with the soil, smelling the plants and dirt, feeling the different textures, and seeing all the green foliage and flowers can help relax the mind and ground yourself. When you ground yourself, you reduce stress, anxiety, and even built-up anger."

Psychologist Seth J. Gillihan PhD takes it several steps further, explaining how gardening can help with mental health by helping people practice acceptance of things they can't control (weather, organic growth), moving beyond perfectionism and developing a growth mindset (mistakes will be made), staying in the present (focusing on what's in front of you) and reducing stress.

one person handing another person a bowl of cherry tomatoes

Gardening can help you connect with people.

Photo by Elaine Casap on Unsplash

Gardening connects you to community

While gardening is often a solo activity, the hobby of it connects you to a whole community of gardeners who are often happy to share knowledge, seeds, cuttings and more. Additionally, you can share whatever you grow—vegetables, flowers, whatever—with your neighbors and friends. Gardening offers plenty of opportunity to socialize, and having strong social ties is linked to increased resilience to anxiety and depression.

Gardening can be a meditative—some might say spiritual—practice

As you connect your hands with the Earth on the outside, you can also connect with yourself—your soul, your spirit, whatever you want to call your inner being—on the inside. Many people find gardening to be a meditative practice that helps them practice mindfulness and inner peace and connection And there are so many qualities needed for gardening that parallel qualities used in spiritual practice—patience, perseverance, surrendering control, reverence for beauty and more. Gardening means being up close and personal with nature, which can help people feel more connected to the source of life, whatever they perceive or beleive it to be. Many religion's scriptures use plant and garden metaphors to elucidate spiritual concepts, so gardening can help us deepen our understanding of spiritual teachings as well.

If you're looking for a comprehensive exercise that will not only provide a healthy workout for your body but also help sharpen your mind and nurture your spirit, try planting and tending a garden. Just make sure it's large or complex enough for you to reap the full benefits.

Pete the Plant is a maidenhair fern living in the Rainforest Life exhibit at the London Zoo, but Pete the Plant isn't like other plants. Pete the Plant is also a budding photographer. Scientists in the Zoological Society of London's (ZSL) conservation tech unit has been teaching the plant how to take selfies.

The ZSL held a competition in partnership with Open Plant, Cambridge University, and the Arribada Initiative for the design of a fuel cell powered by plants. Plant E in the Netherlands produced the winning design. The prototype cell creates electricity from the waste from the plant's roots. The electricity will be used to charge a battery that's attached to a camera. Once Pete the Plant grows strong enough, it will then use the camera to take a selfie. Not too bad for a plant.

"As plants grow, they naturally deposit biomatter into the soil they're planted in, which bacteria in the soil feeds on – this creates energy that can be harnessed by fuel cells and used to power a wide range of conservation tools," Al Davies, ZSL's conservation technology specialist, explains.

RELATED: This plant might be the answer to water pollution we've been searching for


Pete the Plant isn't snapping selfies so he can become an Instagram influencer. Conservationists hope that this technology will help them monitor the Peruvian rainforest without actually having to be there. Plants will be able generate electricity to power cameratraps and other sensors, allowing researchers to keep an eye on them. "Plugging in to plants unlocks the potential to deploy sensors, monitoring platforms, camera traps, or other electronics that require power and must operate for extended periods of time – all remotely and without interference," says Davies.

The energy produced by the plant is a possible alternative to traditional batteries or solar panels, which both form their own problems. Batteries need to be replaced after a while, and plants who live in the shade don't get enough sunlight for the solar panels to work.

RELATED: 8 products you should own if you actually care about sustainability

Researchers are enthusiastic about what this technology will mean if it proves successful. Plants will be able to help in the collection of their data, allowing researchers to better understand climate change and loss of habitat through the measurement of information such as temperature, humidity and plant growth. "We're excited about the potential for this new technology – if we could harness plants to help generate small amounts of electricity, we could quite literally plug in to nature to help protect the world's wildlife," says Davies.

This technology is pretty cool, but what happens if and when Pete the Plant figures out how to put the dog filter over its selfies?

Heroes

13 gorgeous photos of wild Florida that show why it's worth saving.

'I think if everyone would spend just a little bit of time experiencing our natural spaces, they would fall in love with them the way I have, and we’d have an unstoppable force for their protection.'

True
Nature Valley

"Half the time I’m making my best pictures, I’m waist-deep in water," says Floridian photographer Carlton Ward.

While that might sound strange for the average photographer, it makes sense given Ward's speciality, which is wilderness conservation.

Carlton Ward in his element. Photo via Upworthy.


Ward spends most of his time making his way through the lush Everglades of the Florida Wildlife Corridor in order to capture its majesty on camera in as many ways as possible.

And the corridor is no small territory. Its nearly 16 million acres are home to thousands of different species, including over 40 endangered or threatened animals, such as the whooping crane, the Florida panther, and the west Indian manatee.

Together with members of his conservation team, Ward has crossed 1,000 miles of it — twice.

Obviously Ward's not afraid to get his feet wet to save wild Florida from encroaching land developments.

Ward paddling through the glades. Photo via Upworthy.

According to Ward, 100,000 acres of land are given over to housing growth every year, which means pretty soon there won't be any room left for the wildlife living in the corridor.

But it's not just about the flora and fauna — the encroachment also threatens local residents' drinking water.

"The Everglades watershed provides water for 9 million people," Ward explains. "So this is our water tower. This is absolutely essential for humans to survive on this peninsula."

In order to further protect the corridor and all who rely on it, he created the Florida Wildlife Corridor organization.

Image via iStock.

FWC utilizes science and unforgettable imagery to raise awareness around the corridor's plight and to get people to realize why it needs to be saved.

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Florida's wild territories is that they're mostly connected throughout the state. FWC is working tirelessly not only to protect that natural network, but restore it. They have a goal of conserving 10% of it every year so that 300,000 acres are saved by 2020.

Ward's photos have already inspired a network of devoted followers. Now he's rallying them to get out in the wild and share their own experiences.

"I think if everyone would spend just a little bit of time experiencing our natural spaces, they would fall in love with them the way I have, and we’d have an unstoppable force for their protection," Ward says.

He asks them to share their Florida photos under #KeepFLWild to help highlight the conservation mission.

And they're obliging.

A son took a photo of his father at Suwannee State Park.

Someone else captured a great egret on a branch.

Just take a look at Ward's incredible shots, and you'll understand why he's inspiring so many people to venture out into the glades.

Here's a 100-year-old long-leaf pine standing against the clouds:

And a couple of spoonbills taking flight.

These are marsh islands at sunset.

A scaly Florida resident makes an appearance.

This Ogeechee tupelo tree sits near the Florida-Georgia border.

Ogeechee Tupelo - one of my favorite landscape photos, shot on the Suwannee River near the Georgia Florida border on day 96 of the 2012 @fl_wildcorridor expedition from Everglades National Park to the Okefenokee Swamp. It was drizzling this day. A four second long exposure on a tripod soaked in the even light and vibrancy of the emergent spring leaves. A polarizing filter, partially turned, cut through sheen of the water to reveal the surreal orange of the shallow white sandbar glowing through tannin stained swamp water while retaining the reflection of the tree on the surface. Our original expedition route would have had us hiking the final week through the Pinkook Swamp but a 30,000-acre wildfire there pushed us further west to paddle upstream on the Suwannee. It was so shallow we had to drag our boats at times but the scenery was some of the most beautiful of the whole Expedition and this photograph became my most collected print. I heard the river water was 16 feet higher the next year. From the perspective of my current project, the Okefenokee is excellent panther habitat. Hopefully a breeding population can establish there someday. Please share. #suwannee #tupelo #hope #okefenokee #floridawild #keepFLWild #landscape #river

A post shared by Carlton Ward Jr (@carltonward) on

Finally, meet the elusive ghost orchid, which only blooms in the wild in Florida.

Thanks to Ward's talent and spirit, what makes wild Florida precious is crystal clear. He might very well be what saves it.

As long as other adventurers keep following in his footsteps, that is. After all, the Everglades may be his natural habitat, but he's only one man. More will have to step off the beaten path to keep Florida's wildlands safe.

"There’s a wild side to Florida that’s hiding in plain sight," Ward says. Sometimes you just have to get a little messy to find it.

Ward getting down into the glades with his assistant. Photo via Upworthy.

See more of Ward's amazing work here:

He goes to extreme lengths to get these stunning photos. And the results are helping to save hundreds of species.

Posted by Upworthy on Thursday, August 24, 2017

Corrections 8/30/2017: The post misstated the amount of land given over to housing growth each year. The correct number is 100,000 acres. It also misidentified a great egret as a whooping crane.

New York City isn't exactly known for its plethora of free space. So how'd an apple orchard just ... appear?

Image from Reuters/Carlo Allegri.

While land might be at a premium, it turns out there's plenty of space in the East River.

Photo courtesy of Swale/Jason DeCrow/AP Images for Strongbow.


Established in 2016 by artist Mary Mattingly, this awesome garden is built on top of an old construction barge.

Photo courtesy of Swale/Jason DeCrow/AP Images for Strongbow.

The project, known as "Swale," was sponsored by two nonprofits, the New York Foundation for the Arts and A Blade of Grass. The new orchard is a partnership with Strongbow Cider.

Image from Reuters/Carlo Allegri.

Instead of hauling sand to construction sites, the barge now gives New Yorkers a chance to pick their own food.

Image from Reuters/Carlo Allegri.

For the rest of the summer, it'll be hanging out in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Manhattan.

Visitors can forage for fruits, vegetables, and apparently, pianos.

Image from Reuters/Carlo Allegri.

The farm has a garden, aquaponics area, and an apple orchard. It's open to the public, though people might have to wait their turn to board, and it also includes workshops and edible/medicinal plant tours.

Photo courtesy of Swale/Jason DeCrow/AP Images for Strongbow.

Swale’s free for people who visit.

It's about challenging our notions of where we grow food.

Image from Reuters/Carlo Allegri.

"At its heart, Swale is a call to action," said Mattingly on the project's website. "It asks us to reconsider our food systems, to confirm our belief in food as a human right and to pave pathways to create public food in public space."

A lot of us have no idea where our food actually comes from, especially if we live in a city.

We don't see the costs either: the farmer's time, the gas it took to drive it here, the packaging it came in — these are largely invisible.

By putting the garden front and center, Swale hopes to make people rethink how our cities eat.

Learn more about the project in the a video of the project below: