All You Need to Know About Gardening: Health Benefits, Precautions, and More

Studies suggest that exposure to plants and green space can benefit an individual’s physical and mental health. One of the activities that can encourage your exposure to green space is gardening.

What are the health benefits of doing home gardening? Are there any safety tips to remember when doing this activity? What should you do if you find asbestos in your garden’s soil?

This article explores the health benefits of gardening and what precautions you should note while doing this activity.

This article also discusses asbestos exposure and what to do if you encounter this material in your garden’s soil.

It’s also worth noting that asbestos exposure is a primary cause of mesothelioma, a rare cancer type.

Gardening Health Benefits Precautions

Visit the Mesothelioma Group to learn about the stages of mesothelioma and the various treatment options to help individuals manage the symptoms of this disease.

The Health Benefits of Gardening

Below are five health benefits that you can get when you start gardening:

1. Provides a Source of Fruits and Vegetables

Gardening is an excellent opportunity to plant fruits and vegetables. This way, you have an immediate source of vitamins and nutrients from these types of produce.

Consider planting essential kitchen ingredients like tomatoes, pepper, spinach, and herbs. These plants are easy to grow, and you can save on grocery expenses by picking these plants in your garden.

Here are some tips to help you when planting fruits and vegetables:

  • Pick an area with at least six hours of good sunlight and water access
  • Use soil that doesn’t contain contaminants
  • Start with a small plot and grow fruits and vegetables you enjoy eating
  • Consider planting on a raised garden bed that lets you control the soil and nutrient mix
  • Ask other backyard gardeners or farmers in your community to determine what grows well in your area

2. Boosts One’s Mood

One study mentioned that gardening can benefit individuals by helping maintain their perceived health and well-being, especially during social isolation and distress.

Additionally, the results showed that those who engage in gardening activities may be better at adapting to change. This effect means gardeners are likely to be more adjusted and resilient against the grief and loss of a loved one.

Another study suggested that gardening may help individuals fight stress better than other hobbies.

Participants who experienced stressful activities and went gardening afterward for 30 minutes reported having a better mood. Their blood tests also showed lower cortisol levels.

Cortisol is the stress hormone that helps regulate blood sugar and reduce inflammation. High cortisol levels can lead to symptoms like increased weight, weak muscles, and thin arms and legs.

3. Serves as an Aerobic Exercise

Gardening can be an effective light aerobic exercise since it involves digging, pulling, twisting, and bending.

Aerobic (with oxygen) exercises can give your body cardiovascular conditioning. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise for five to seven days weekly.

Whenever you pull weeds, reach the tools and plants, and twist and bend your body while digging and planting, you’re working your muscles and helping with strength, flexibility, and stamina.

4. Provides Vitamin D Exposure

Vitamin D is a nutrient in the food you eat and a hormone your body produces. This fat-soluble vitamin helps your body absorb and retain calcium and phosphorus needed for bone-building.

Vitamin D, called the sunshine vitamin, also occurs naturally in the presence of the sun’s ultraviolet-B (UVB) rays.

So when you spend too much time indoors or live in a place with limited sunlight, especially in winter, you’re likely to receive insufficient levels of this vitamin.

When gardening, you’re more exposed to vitamin D. So gardening and other outdoor activities are a great way to get your sunshine while engaging in a fun and productive hobby.

But before you head outside, make sure to dress sufficiently and put protection like sunscreen, so you don’t get sunburned.

Consider using water-resistant sunscreen and lip balm with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30, even on cloudy days. SPF 30 can block up to 97% of harmful ultraviolet rays.

5. Lowers the Risk of Dementia

In one study investigating the lifestyle factors and risks of dementia among the elderly, results showed that daily gardening may contribute to 36% lower dementia risk.

Dementia is a general term for the impaired ability to think, remember, or make decisions. This impairment can interfere with one’s ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer’s disease is one of the common types of dementia.

Dementia usually affects older adults, but it’s not meant to be a part of natural aging.

Precautions to Take while Gardening

Aside from taking safety measures to avoid physical injuries, especially since you’re working with sharp tools or thorny plants, you also need to consider the soil quality and the presence of contaminants.

One material that can pose a health risk while gardening is asbestos.

Naturally occurring asbestos (NOA) comprises fibrous minerals often found in soil or rocks due to natural geological processes. NOA differs from processed asbestos present in heat-resistant insulation and automobile brake linings.

Regular human activity or natural weathering can disturb rocks and soil containing NOA and release asbestos fibers into the air. These airborne fibers can pose a high risk for inhalation among humans.

If you’re unsure whether the soil in your garden contains asbestos, contact the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The agency can conduct a mapping project to determine whether there are asbestos mines and natural occurrences of this material near or within your area.

What to Do When You Find Asbestos in the Soil

Your risk of asbestos exposure is low as long as you don’t disturb the rock or soil containing the mineral and leave the source intact. NOA is best left alone and avoided.

If you suspect or find out after consultation with the USGS that there’s NOA in your area that’s been disturbed, you can limit your exposure by:

  • Covering NOA-containing soil or rock in gardens with landscape covering or asbestos-free soil
  • Paving over unpaved walkways or driveways that have NOA-containing rock or soil
  • Watering the garden areas before shoveling or digging soil
  • Keeping your pets from carrying dirt or dust on their feet or fur into your home
  • Using doormats and removing your shoes before entering your home to prevent the dirt from getting inside
  • Keeping your doors and windows closed, especially during windy days or when there’s construction nearby

How Asbestos Exposure Can Lead to Mesothelioma

When asbestos breaks up, like when you accidentally disturb the rock or soil containing NOA, the material releases dust or fibers that, when inhaled or swallowed, can settle in your lungs or stomach.

The asbestos dust can irritate these organs and cause mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer form that develops in the thin tissue covering your internal organs. Symptoms include:

  • Chest pains
  • Shortness of breath
  • Painful coughs
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Lumps under the skin, especially on the chest

Scientists still don’t understand how exactly asbestos causes mesothelioma. But it usually takes around 20 to 60 years before the disease occurs after asbestos exposure. If you’re experiencing mesothelioma symptoms or believe you or someone you know is exposed to asbestos, consult your doctor or oncologist for a diagnosis and potential treatment.

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