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Gardening for Wellness!

Judy Wagley

JW: I'm Judy Wagley. This is “From the Ground Up!” When I was a very young person just hanging around the house, my dad, who was a bit of a character, would say, “Go outside and blow the stink off you!” All these years later, I realize that dad was on to something. He knew that getting outdoors is good for us. Holly Tiret is Michigan State University Extension, Senior Extension Educator, Social/ Emotional Health. Thanks for joining me today, Holly.

Holly Tiret: MSU Extension
Judy Wagley
Holly Tiret: MSU Extension

HT: Thank you for having me today.

JW: Holly, my dad was right, and you have solid evidence!

HT: Yes, we do. And we've always recognized at MSU Extension that physical activity can keep you healthy. Participating in regular daily activity reduces blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and helps with maintaining a healthy weight. In addition, interacting with nature on a daily basis has been shown to improve mental health by reducing the levels of stress and anxiety, and even improving symptoms of depression.

JW: Do we know how that works? Why that works?

HT: Well, it's called green exercise and it's considered any physical activity that takes place outside. And it's been shown to improve both physical and mental health. Activities can be anything like visiting a neighborhood garden or riding a bike, and any activity like walking, horse riding, flying kites, walking the dog, and participating in neighborhood projects like planting flowers and gardening.

JW: Well, and I would think that gardening even more so-- because you're actually touching nature. I mean, you're right there, up close and personal.

HT: Absolutely. And that type of physical exercise where you're--you know you're shoveling, you're hoeing, you're digging, you're doing all of that stuff that's really beneficial for you physically as well as emotionally.

JW: When we are out in our garden, I think you have some great tips on how to even improve that experience.

HT: Absolutely. A lot of the classes that we teach at MSU Extension in the social, emotional, and health work team include teaching people about mindfulness. According to John Kabat-Zinn, who's an author and expert in mindfulness, says that mindfulness is paying attention--on purpose in the present moment--the here and the now with a non-judgmental attitude. So there are some ways that you can add mindfulness into your gardening to help you boost your own resiliency and reduce your stress levels. So one of the ways that you can add mindfulness is to--I call it “park and breathe.” I usually do it in my car, but if you're gardening, you can park and breathe in your garden. So once you step into your garden, before you start to do all the list of stuff that you know you have to do or want to get to, just stop. And pause for one minute you can. Close your eyes, or you can leave them open and gaze at your favorite part of your garden, and then just start focusing on your breath. Breathing in and breathing out and noticing how the air feels coming in and out of your lungs as you stand there in your garden in peace and just breathe. And that can help you really to settle in before you start doing all of the tasks that you're doing. Another thing is to remember that any movement can be mindful. So while you're digging, instead of thinking about OK, when I'm done with this, I gotta do the dishes or go get gas or cook dinner. Or do whatever. When you're digging, just dig. That's mindful gardening. Or when you're pulling weeds. Just pull those weeds and relax while you're doing that. So you can add mindfulness into anything that you're doing in your garden.

HT: Park and breathe, and mindfulness. So simple, but not necessarily easy. But it sounds like they really work!

HT: They do. And it takes a little bit to get used to that. Paying attention to one thing at a time. Most of the time we multitask. Our brains are all over the place, but the mindfulness can really help you to extend your focus. So you're less likely to, you know, make a mistake or trip in your garden, or, you know, dig up something you didn't mean to dig up--because you're paying attention to what you're doing in the present moment. And with the non-judgmental attitude.

JW: Holly, one of the things I like to say about “From the Ground Up!” I like to inspire people to “Get out and get growing.” With mindful gardening, we can grow in all kinds of ways, can't we?

HT: Absolutely!

JW: Holly, my dad was right.

HT: Yes, he was.

JW: Thanks, Dad! Holly Tiret, Michigan State University Extension Senior Extension Educator, Social/ Emotional health. Thanks for joining me today for “From the Ground Up!” this has been fascinating.

HT: Thank you.

JW: Holly. I think you mentioned you have quite a success story about someone who overcame some issues--- with gardening.

HT: Yes. So one of the classes that we teach is RELAX: Alternatives to Anger. And there's a lesson on forgiving, where we talk about forgiving and letting go and finding some kind of a ritual. And one participant shared that her ritual was to sow her wildflower seeds, and when she's sowing those seeds, she is spreading out all the things she wants to forgive, and just get out of her past. But then in the spring, she ends up with a beautiful garden of wildflowers.

JW: Oh my, that's very powerful. That's the power of nature-- of gardening.

Judy Wagley is WCMU’s midday host, and is the producer of The Children’s Bookshelf from From the Ground Up! She guides listeners through their weekdays from 9am to 3pm.