I have found it! I have searched everywhere and it was right there in front of me all this time. What I have discovered folks is a magic ingredient offering both health and happiness. It’s called gardening!!
There are those who reckon that gardening can single-handedly fix the NHS. Tests have been run and reports have been written. In some parts of the country, GPs are even offering gardening as part of a ‘social prescribing’ drive.
With our ailing health service on its way to a £22 billion deficit by 2020, imagine how much can be saved with a single free cure-all that can help to:
- Ward off heart attacks and strokes
- Lower blood pressure
- Delay the onset of dementia
- Overcome obesity
- Beat stress and depression
- Enhance agility and overcome joint problems
- Improve diet when you eat what you grow.
It would be foolish to pretend that this panacea would do away with drugs – medication will always be needed by some. But if people are prepared to go out into their gardens on a preventative as well as remedial basis then imagine how much can be saved on drug costs and GP time.
On a personal level, I am both fitter and happier after nearly a year of semi-retirement during which I have been able to substantially swap my desk for a garden and allotment in desperate need of attention. I still need to lose some weight but my back is certainly stronger, my joints are more flexible and previously emerging arthritis is being kept at bay.
Equally significantly, I quite simply feel good on the inside. It has to be said that, as a mad keen gardener all my life, I have probably responded better than most to this new freedom. But, a bit like going to the gym, it can grow on you if you are prepared to persevere. Suddenly it becomes a habit and it’s a small jump from there to becoming an enthusiast.
Another good argument for a garden fitness regime is that over the course of a session it is balanced. The things you do naturally when maintaining your garden include a lot of bending and stretching, lifting of a range of weights and lots of walking. You can burn around 500 calories an hour on heavy work like digging, 350 on raking and 250 on just mowing the lawn or weeding. The pace is up to you – and it never gets boring.
I have a watch that measures my activity each day and gives me progress reports along the way. When I am gardening, I not just hit those targets every single day but the whizzy thing that records it goes round not just once to hit its target, but several times! Last August when I was doing the labouring on our wall rebuilding programme, I actually hit the daily exercise target at 9.30am!
Cost wise it’s a no-brainer compared with gym membership. I pay £12 a year for my allotment and it repays me with interest!
Ok so (unlike me on the labouring stuff) you need to be careful. If you have any cause for concern over your health you should obviously go talk to your doctor before you lay into digging all day.
A great stress buster
Physical health is one thing of course. But then there’s mental health. I am totally convinced that gardening is the most under-rated stress buster of the lot and that it has the power to overcome depression. Exercise in itself lowers your stress levels, but there is something about the peace of a garden that is utterly calming spiritually.
The most difficult period in my life came after my much loved late wife suffered a brain haemorrhage. The five years that she spent in hospital and then in rehab at home was at times hugely stressful. Without my garden and allotment as a diversion it would have been infinitely more so.
I have been lucky and, as life has moved on, I have once again rediscovered another great wellbeing benefit of a garden. I share the joys of Flinstones with Jan and there is now a great sense of joint endeavour. It’s the same at the allotment where Simon piles in to mutual benefit as we grow loads of stuff with antioxidant benefits.
Gardening as a national prescription adds up to an awful lot of pills that stay in their blister packs and doctors that concentrate their valuable time on the stuff that gets through the sieve.
Job done — NHS on the mend!