When most of us think about heart health, we don’t automatically think about picking up a trowel and spade. But gardening can increase your fitness levels through exercise, reduce stress, and add variety to your diet when you grow your own food. These are all ways to help take care of your heart and your body overall.
So what are the best ways to make gardening a positive contribution to a healthier lifestyle? Here’s the lowdown.
Growing your own for a healthier diet
We’re all looking for more interesting ways to eat our five a day, and it doesn’t get much more inspiring than eating fruit and vegetables you’ve grown yourself. A healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables is a key way to help care care of your heart, and with fresh produce literally on your doorstep, you’re more likely to eat more of the right things.
Strawberry plants are easy to grow, and if you opt for a hanging basket variety they can make a very attractive decoration on the front or back wall too. Fruit trees will prosper for years, and there are even miniature versions that can be kept in pots. Tomato plants are a favourite with home gardeners, and even a simple herb garden will add more variety to your diet.
When it comes to vegetables, spring onions, salad leaves, and radishes are ideal for anyone looking for a quick reward in the summer months. Potatoes and onions take longer, but are arguably more satisfying in the end. Pumpkins and squashes of all kinds can really flourish if treated well, and make great autumnal treats.
If you’re wondering how to lower cholesterol, one key area in heart health, it’s a good idea to also be on the lookout for ways your gardening efforts can support this. Eating less saturated fats in your diet and more unsaturated fats can help, so try a few swaps here and there:
- Skip on saturated fatty snacks like sausage rolls, crisps, and scotch eggs, and try something fresh: grow carrots and cucumbers and enjoy them as a raw snack dipped in hummus made with a little olive oil.
- Evening meals will be all the more special if they have your own potatoes, parsnips, and peas in them. You don’t even need a big garden, as many vegetables can be grown in containers and deep sacks. To make it even more heart-friendly, melt a vegetable oil based spread over freshly boiled or steamed vegetables instead of butter.
- Don’t fry your homegrown onions, courgettes, and aubergines in butter: use a little olive or vegetable oil instead.
Getting active in the garden
Gardening is a physically demanding activity. This alone will increase your fitness levels, much like active exercises like playing golf or tennis. But one of the great things about it is that you can tailor the level of difficulty to your ability. This is particularly important for those who have certain physical restrictions, like arthritis. It also means you can continue to get involved in your garden well into old age – you might just want to ask someone else to do the harder manual labour!
Stretching up to prune and kneeling down to weed, sow seeds, and plant bulbs can help with flexibility. Digging, hoeing, and raking can help with muscle tone and strength. Pushing a lawn mower around can work up a sweat and provide aerobic exercise. Using secateurs and other tools can help with pinch force and hand strength, which is particularly important as we get older. Exercise can also help reduce stress levels thanks to the release of endorphins.
Gardening to improve your mental wellbeing, quality of sleep and relaxation levels
If you’re interested in how to lower cholesterol, your blood pressure is well worth thinking about too – they’re both factors in heart health. Sleeping well and reducing stress are two ways to help maintain a healthy blood pressure, and luckily, gardening can help with this.
In addition to the benefits to your physical wellbeing, spending time in the garden can also help your emotional and psychological health. According to a recent study by Bakker Spalding, mental wellbeing is a key benefit of being in the garden for 88% of people.
The physical effort combined with mental relaxation can help with sleep too. Insomniacs and those who find it difficult to drift off due to a busy mind might well find that gardening aids their quality of shut-eye. Spending time in the fresh air is another key factor for sleeping well, and you’ll certainly get plenty of that if you tend to your garden outdoors.
Gardening alone can be therapeutic, providing some much-needed time to yourself when your daily life is full of work, chores, and childcare. But for those who live on their own or feel isolated, gardening can also be a mood booster, as it offers the opportunity to be sociable and get involved in a group activity. Meet up with others in community garden projects, or work in an allotment to feel a sense of camaraderie.
So there you have it – gardening has a heart-friendly benefit for everyone, from those of us wondering how to lower cholesterol to people simply trying to be more active. Plus, you’ll have fun along the way!