By: Karen Yontz Center Staff
We all know we need to eat healthy and exercise in order to have the healthiest heart possible. But what if we were able to combine the two into one fun, challenging, and relaxing hobby? Gardening is just the ticket for those who want to tackle these two important facets of heart health, plus who want to spend more time in the fresh air.
Here in southeast Wisconsin, we are lucky to have the best growing season in the state thanks in large part to the moderating effect that Lake Michigan has on our weather. Because of this, gardens in the area can grow a diverse group of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. But regardless of where you live, there are any number of heart-healthy things you can grow to eat in your garden. Some of the most popular choices for backyard gardens are:
- Tomatoes: This fruit gives you a lot of heart-healthy bang for your buck. They contain lycopene, an antioxidant that can help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol as well as blood pressure. They also tend to produce a lot of fruit so it’s easy to eat and share.
- Broccoli, spinach, & other leafy greens: These powerhouses give you a solid dose of Vitamin K which helps protect your arteries and they’re also high in dietary nitrates. These have been shown to lower blood pressure and decrease stiffness in the arteries.
- Rhubarb: This sour veggie is full of fiber, which may contribute to lower cholesterol levels, as well as some of the same antioxidants that are found in kale and red wine.
- Zucchini: This vegetable is rightfully considered a superfood. It’s packed with Vitamins A & C, potassium, fiber, and folate, all of which help reduce blood pressure and lower cholesterol.
- Carrots: Carrots give you the satisfaction of an early bloom because the fronds sprout quickly. However, they also require patience since the veggies themselves take awhile to grow to maturity. If you decide to plant them, “Purple Dragon” and “Atomic Red” varieties have been bred to contain more heart-healthy lycopene than the simple orange variety.
It’s not just the fruits of the labor, but the labor itself that is beneficial for heart health. Gardening uses all major muscle groups which means that it is a full-body workout, and one that not only strengthens but burns calories as well. In fact, 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise like gardening helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, helps prevent diabetes and heart disease, and increases flexibility and strengthens joints. You can also choose to engage in “dynamic gardening” in which you exaggerate your gardening movements in order to achieve maximum range of motion and change your gardening stances to use different muscles. You can also put small obstacles (for example, a small crate) in between yourself and the planting bed and step over it or around it to add to your aerobic workout. Sound interesting? Consider that the following are calorie burns for a 180 lb. person for 30 minutes of each activity:
- Raking: 162 calories
- Planting seedlings: 162 calories
- Planting trees: 182 calories
- Weeding: 182 calories
- Digging/spading/tilling: 202 calories
- Laying sod: 202 calories
This doesn’t even include the stress relief that comes from working in the fresh air and the joy you feel when your carefully planned and planted garden starts blooming and you can reap its benefits. You can even share your heart healthy plantings with the important people in your life. It’s hard to beat gardening when it comes to giving your heart a dose of love.