As gardeners know, a little time spent in the yard can reap a bounty of rewards. From stress relief to a healthy diet, the benefits of gardening are numerous.

Studies have shown that gardening improves both cognitive and physical health, and can be used as an alternative form of therapy for people with conditions such as depression, ADHD and dementia. Using the right tools, understanding the process of planting and caring for plants, and learning from nature all contribute to a better quality of life and increased self-esteem.

Whether you grow flowers, vegetables or fruit in your own backyard or a community garden, it can be a full-sensory experience with colors to look at, buzzing insects and water droplets to hear, aromatic soil and plant smells, different textures to touch and even the taste of fruit, veggies and flowers. The routine of watering and weeding can create a rhythm that reduces stress, which in turn, can help lower blood pressure.

Many of the tasks involved in gardening work large muscle groups, which helps to build strength and endurance. In fact, a single hour of gardening can burn about 300 calories. Even more strenuous activities like raking leaves and pushing a lawn mower can burn up to 400 calories.

Gardening has also been shown to boost the production of serotonin, which is a natural mood enhancer. In addition, being outdoors in the sun increases Vitamin D levels, which improves your immune system and calcium absorption to help keep your bones strong.

Taking up gardening as a hobby can be easy to get into, but starting small is recommended. “You don’t want to overdo it, especially if you haven’t been active for a while,” says Lamp’l. “You might start to hurt yourself.” In addition, it’s important to take precautions to protect your body and eyes from UV rays and use proper equipment when handling chemicals such as fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. Wearing gloves, long pants and sturdy closed shoes is important as well as a hat and sunscreen to avoid sunburn.

While there is no doubt that gardening can be beneficial to your mind, spirit and body, it’s important to remember that this type of exercise should be incorporated into a well-rounded fitness program alongside weight lifting, running, yoga, walking and swimming. For the best results, try to incorporate gardening into your regular exercise regimen at least twice a week for about 30 minutes each session.

This article was written by Joe Lamp’l and edited by the UCSF Health Medical Library. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with them.

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Is Gardening For You?