Dig In To a Garden To Get Healthier, Happier

After the dust settles on the red, white and blue celebrations later this week, consider turning your attention to another color: green. It's a familiar one to gardeners, who reap a host of physical and mental health benefits from time spent planting and pruning.

"You will increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, ultimately, because you have them right in your backyard," Mayo Clinic dietitian Anya Guy says in this Mayo Clinic Minute. "Different vegetables have a variety of different health benefits unique to each of them." That’s good news, especially if you've been overdoing it in the BBQ department or have already had too many s'mores this summer.

Digging in the dirt is also a great way to get some low-impact exercise. "What studies have shown is if you garden for 30 minutes to an hour a day, it’s like doing moderate intensity activity," Amit Sood, M.D., says in this Mayo Clinic News Network story. Dr. Sood, author of "The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living," says daily gardening lowers your risk of developing a number of conditions, including "hypertension, heart attack, stroke, a few cancers, osteoporosis."

Gardening also benefits the mind. "Whenever we are in nature, we get relaxed, and we develop a positive mode," Dr. Sood says. "So people who garden regularly have a lower risk of depression, less stress, have less anxiety, they are calmer, and they may even have less risk of dementia. So they're generally happier."

A recent study even found that going green — or going to green — may help you live longer. "This was a large survey of nurses who were asked about where they live and how much green space is nearby," Vandana Bhide, M.D., tells the Mayo Clinic News Network. Dr. Bhide, a Mayo Clinic internal medicine specialist, says the study results "suggest people who live in the greenest areas actually had a lower death rate." But, she says, you don't need a house in the woods to benefit. If you live in a concrete jungle rather than a real one, you can get your green fix by making regular trips to a park or community garden. Spending time in spaces like these, Dr. Bhide says, is a "very low-tech way of helping both your mental health and your physical health."

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