Have you started your summer garden yet? Is there anything more delicious and nutritious than vine-ripened tomatoes, just-harvested peaches and corn, or fresh herbs and spices? Growing your own edible plants can be fun, rewarding, and healthy. If you share your garden’s bounty with friends and neighbors, you might even expand your social connections and spread the health around.

wilf-gardening“Gardening has many health benefits. It allows you to get outside, get active, and sit less, which might help to reduce stress,” says Dr. Philip Smith, a lifelong gardener who oversees obesity research at NIH. “Gardening can also help to improve your diet if you eat more fruits and vegetables. They’re especially delicious, with a more intense flavor, when ripe and freshly picked.”

Fruits and vegetables are packed with fiber and essential vitamins and minerals. Research has shown that eating fruits and vegetables as part of an overall healthy diet can reduce your risk for long-term diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer.

Fruits and vegetables may also help reduce your calorie intake to help you control your weight. Herbs can add rich and interesting flavors to your meals without adding calories.

Gardening may enhance your mental health as well. Some studies have found that being physically active outdoors, or even simple exposure to nature, can improve mood, reduce anxiety, and enhance self-esteem. “Growing your own vegetables and digging into the dirt can increase physical activity and give one a feeling of well-being and a sense of connection to the Earth,” Smith says.

If you think you don’t have space for a backyard garden, think again. “Some vegetables like carrots, lettuce, kale, and hot peppers don’t require much space,” says Smith. These can be grown in pots or small gardens. “You can also try growing hanger tomatoes, which can be suspended from your deck or porch.”

Before you get started, check out these garden safety tips:

  • Wear gloves to avoid skin rashes, cuts, and contaminants.
  • Read all instruction labels before using chemicals, tools and other equipment, and keep them out of the reach of children.
  • Cut your risk for sunburn and skin cancer by wearing wide-brimmed hats, sun shades, and sunscreen with sun protective factor (SPF) 15 or higher.
  • Protect against diseases carried by mosquitoes and ticks. Use insect repellent. Wear long-sleeved shirts. Tuck pants into your socks.
  • If you’re outside in hot weather, drink plenty of water.
  • Pay attention to signs of heat-related illness, including high body temperature, headache, rapid pulse, dizziness, nausea, confusion, or unconsciousness. Seek emergency medical care if needed.

Did you know that the Wilf Campus has two vegetable gardens? – One at Stein Assisted Living and one at the Wilentz Senior Residence. Residents, family members and master gardeners from the community work on these gardens. The vegetables are later used in our very own kitchen or in the kitchen’s of residents.

To learn more about the Wilf Campus, Stein Assisted Living and Wilentz Independent Living contact us at (732) 568-1155, info@wilfcampus.org or visit us at www.wilfcampus.org.

Source: National Institutes of Health News in Health, adapted by IlluminAge AgeWise.