How Does Your Garden Grow?

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How Does Your Garden Grow?

by Susan Weiner, MS, RDN, CDE, CDN

Looking for an outdoor activity that reaps fabulous physical and mental benefits and helps you eat healthy all summer long? Get your hands dirty and garden.  One hour of vigorous gardening burns between 250 and 500 calories, dependent on the level of exertion. So you’re not only planting the seeds for a season’s worth of healthy food and beautiful flowers when you garden, you’re getting a workout too. 

Digging and weeding help strengthen your arms and back muscles, while activities that get your heart pumping like raking and rototilling can be a great aerobic workout. And you can do it all outdoors while getting a healthy dose of vitamin D from the sun. Of course, you should always wear sunscreen and appropriate clothing when gardening to protect your skin from harmful UV rays.

Tomatoes, zucchini squash, peppers, beets, and carrots are just a few common and productive plants that will provide a bountiful harvest this summer and are highly nutritious as an added bonus. Different veggies do better in different climates, so talk to your local garden supply store or have a chat with the vendors at a farmer’s market in your area to find out what might be best for your garden.

If your outdoor space is limited, container gardening is a great option. Many veggies, including tomatoes, grow quite well in containers as long as they are an appropriate size. If you’re a beginner at gardening, a herb garden on the patio or in a sunny window is a great way to get your feet wet. Plant seasoning basics like basil, oregano, and thyme and you’ll always have fresh herbs at the ready when you cook.

Research shows us that gardening is also a great stress reliever.




Why it works so well is unclear; it could just be the act of being outdoors and getting to know nature that quiets the mind.  But since we know that stress can be a culprit in high blood sugar levels, that’s just one more reason to put on your gardening gloves.

Finally, don’t let the time investment of a vegetable garden deter you from digging in to gardening. If vegetable gardening isn’t your thing, plant or pot some of your favorite flowers. And stop and smell the roses…or peonies, or snapdragons…often this summer.

Authors note: Thanks to Audrey Fleck, RDN, a former dietetic intern at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, for assistance with this article.


Grabbe L, Ball J, Goldstein A. Gardening for the mental well-being of homeless women. J Holist Nurs. 2013 Dec;31(4):258-66.

[2] Sahlin E, Ahlborg G Jr, Matuszczyk JV, Grahn P. Nature-based stress management course for individuals at risk of adverse health effects from work-related stress-effects on stress related symptoms, workability and sick leave. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2014 Jun;11(6):6586-611.


Van Den Berg AE, Custers MH. Gardening promotes neuroendocrine and affective restoration from stress. J Health Psychol. 2011 Jan;16(1):3-11.