Being outdoors is balm for mind and body (Gardening for Life)
By JOSE GERMAN-GOMEZ
Special to Montclair Local
The joy of seeing a beautiful landscape is priceless. Being in nature creates a sense of joy and has a calming effect.
If we pause to observe a natural landscape from a distance, the textures and shapes of trees and bushes seem to blend, creating an impression dominated by different tones of greens.
A closer look will give us a more defined sense of textures, shapes and even different aromas that flow through the air, creating an exquisite mix of natural fragrances.
As we concentrate on our observation, our brain shifts to a state of relaxation. The solace we find outside benefits both our physical and mental health by reducing depression, anger and anxiety. This reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease while improving psychological well-being.
Natural spaces also stimulate children’s imaginations and creativity. Playing outdoors enhances self-discipline, problem-solving ability, self-confidence and cognitive flexibility.
In recent years, health-care providers have begun to recognize the therapeutic attributes of nature for treating depression and attention deficit disorders, among other conditions. According to a study by the University of Illinois, the greener a child’s everyday environment, the more manageable their symptoms of attention deficit disorder.
Outdoor recreation reduces stress, and nature observation, even through a window, speeds healing and recovery, improves work performance and increases job satisfaction and sensory awareness.
We are fortunate to live in a community surrounded by nature and beautiful parks. If you are feeling overwhelmed with stress, stroll or cycle to Brookdale, Nishuane, Edgemont or Glenfield Park. Discover Canterbury Park, a jewel of a park in the South End. A short drive to Eagle Rock or Mills Reservation takes you a world away from the noise of our busy suburban streets.
Within an hour’s drive, we have access to magnificent wildlife preserves, state parks and other protected areas; even the legendary Appalachian Trail is just an hour away. Get out and enjoy nature.
Therapeutic effects of gardening
We all have experienced the relaxing effects of visiting a garden in bloom. The smell and sounds provide a unique experience that calms us down and lets us take note of small things we usually overlook: the color, texture and fragrance of a flower, a butterfly in flight, or a bumblebee doing its work as a pollinator.
Even in winter, gardens hold a lot of interest. Van Vleck Gardens, Presby Memorial Iris Gardens, Avis Campbell Memorial Garden and the Crane Park Demonstration Garden are appealing choices in town.
Gardening is associated with mental clarity and a feeling of reward. Food gardening can be particularly gratifying, especially during the harvest. Vegetable gardening connects us to natural cycles, from soil preparation to the rewards of the harvesting season.
If you have ever spent a summer gardening, you know these tasks can also serve as a great form of exercise. Gardening has many physical benefits; it lets you exercise all major muscle groups, including your legs, arms, back and neck. It also lowers your blood pressure.
Just as important, it can give you a chance to socialize and make new friends with other gardeners, who are always ready to exchange plants and gardening tips.
Gardening helps improve memory and cognitive abilities. In physical rehabilitation, horticultural therapy can help improve coordination, balance and endurance.
The nutritional value of fresh vegetables
In addition to its therapeutic value, food gardening offers a safe source of fresh produce.
Eating fresh vegetables provides many health benefits. According to the USDA, eating more vegetables and fruit helps to reduce risk of some chronic diseases, including heart disease and some types of cancer.
Vegetables provide nutrients vital for the health and maintenance of your body, such as vitamins A and C, fiber and potassium. All these nutrients are available in their natural form in vegetables you can grow in your own backyard.
So, let’s turn off the TVs for a few hours, disconnect from our phones and experience the world outside where we belong.
Get out, go hiking or bird watching, or just sit in a forest and relax and observe. Looking away from your cellphone and up at the blue sky can be good for you.
Be appreciative of what nature has to offer. Plant a garden, grow your own food, and be healthy!
Jose German-Gomez is an environmental activist, Essex County certified master gardener and Montclair resident. He is the founder of the Northeast Earth Coalition.