Exercising in your garden can lower chronic pain and improve mood. The magic is in consistent and regular movement, whether it be walking, digging, lifting, or tending to your garden; a garden is a balm for the soul because when you’re active outdoors it can help you feel better.
Creating time and a space for yourself outside in the sunshine can be a critically important part of your wellness lifestyle plan. Scientists agree that reducing stress symptoms while alleviating depression and anxiety is particularly effective with moderate exercise.
The Benefits of Being Outdoors in a Garden
If thoughtfully performed, gardening can be considered moderate exercise, which is very good for your heart, muscles, and lungs. Yet being outdoors offers many additional benefits such as boosting energy levels, help in mitigating physical pain through direct sunlight exposure, and increasing your brain’s ability to be creative. Outdoor exposure also reduces seasonal affective disorder (a mild depression that can affect some people), more sunlight increases levels of Vitamin D, and simply spending a few moments outdoors can help reduce both emotional and physical stress.
Connecting a daily moderate exercise to an exercise regimen can make us happier on the inside—with ourselves—which enables a person to feel better emotionally. According to psychologists, this is because nature has a way of helping us restore our emotional focus.
Chris Powell, trainer and exercise science expert, says in Choose to Lose:
“People who make exercise a priority have lower rates of cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure. More oxygen is available to every organ of their body, and their muscles are stronger. Regular exercisers have lower rates of depression and other mental disorders. They have more energy and feel better than non-exercisers.”
Finding Your Happiness Outdoors
Psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi [pronounced Me-high Cheek-sent-me-high] wrote the highly influential book, “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” and asked the question “What activities bring us happiness and human enjoyment?” He discovered an experience he describes as “flow.” This state of being is the pleasurable sensation of losing oneself in an activity—work, a game, gardening, or a physical or mental challenge. It’s particularly satisfying when we become immersed in the activity. Flow is an experience between concentrated focus on a goal and a feeling of mechanical effortlessness. Time contracts or stretches and the individual merges with the action, totally absorbed. An example of this is when a gardener says that “weeding is therapy,” because flow conditions are met when weeding the garden in a repetitive and absorbing way.
Flow is described as being present and active in the moment. Its also described as being both completely focused on a task or project. Definitively it represents a feeling of happiness and contentment because we are participating in and attending to a project that helps our brain to be stimulated and uplifted. Many people who regularly achieve flow reduce chronic pain and depression without any need for prescription medication. Gardening is a very flow-filled activity that can help bring on the feelings of flow.
Walk Every Day for Less Chronic Pain and Depression
While spending time in green spaces gardening and enjoying the sunshine is important, one should also perform another heart-friendly activity outdoors in conjunction with gardening in order to get the best physical benefit: walking.
Much like gardening, walking daily can help you reach a level of flow because it’s a mindful activity of repetitive movement. Walking as a meditation, while concentrating on breathing and steps, can elevate the experience. Of course, it can be a challenge to commit to a daily walk. However, unlike going to a club or paying for a class, it’s an absolutely no-cost way to improve our health and mental well-being.
Walking daily progresses circulation, improves sleep, strengthens bones, increases lifespan, improves mood, helps with weight loss, strengthens muscles, supports joint fluid to joints, increases oxygen levels, reduces Alzheimer’s risk, and lowers blood pressure.
When you walk, concentrate on keeping your back straight and head up. Of course, a small amount of “arm pumping” is all right, but it’s better to swing your arms comfortably. Take it slow to start, walking fast enough that you can still speak with a tad bit of breathlessness, but cannot sing. Be sure to keep your stomach muscles tightened a bit and smoothly roll your feet as you move.
When you garden, you walk from the front of the garden to the back. You lift a wheelbarrow and walk it forward. You move from place to place. Every movement contributes to your daily steps. This makes gardening more than a digging-planting sort of experience, but instead, a consistent aerobic activity that can also be mindful and focused, helping you achieve flow. With more flow in your life, you’ll also experience less depression, less chronic pain, and more feelings of happiness, confidence, and achievement.
Vary Activity in the Garden to Prevent Injury and Accidents
Gardening and walking combined make it possible to increase your levels of emotional and physical well-being. Yet working too hard in the garden can cause injury. For example, let’s say that you have weeding, mowing, and planting scheduled for a Saturday in early spring. It’s your first time out in the garden after winter, so remember to take it easy. Building up to heavy garden chores is a smart choice. Joints and muscles can become sore from activities that you’re unfamiliar with. Your body needs to get accustomed to the physical activities.
Varying your activity helps to prevent injury and still keep you mentally engaged with the gardening experience. Mowing the grass requires walking and standing, while weeding requires stretching and bending actions. Try weeding for 15 minutes, then mowing for 15 minutes, going back and forth between chores. Stop if you feel any strain and add a few bags of soil to the garden containers. Follow that with a bit of planting. By breaking up your activities with consistent variation, it helps prevent your muscles and joints from getting locked into stiffness from doing excessively repetitive activity.
Exercising in your garden is a balm for your soul. The consistent and regular movement can lower chronic pain and improve mood. Most importantly, it can help you reduce pain, lift your mood, and feel better.
Shawna Coronado is an anti-inflammatory lifestyle author, coach, media host, photographer, and writer. She is recognized for wellness and anti-inflammatory lifestyle, organic gardening, and healthy nutrition. Shawna dreams of helping others live a healthier, more active, lifestyle. You can learn more about Shawna at www.ShawnaCoronado.com.