As the plants around us get greener, so should our thumbs. Gardening can do wonderful things for your health. Even if you only have enough space to put plants in a few pots on a patio, a little bit of gardening can go a long way.

Multiple studies have found that gardening and other nature-based forms of recreation can improve your mental state, health and overall well-being. It can even increase your lifespan. And you don’t have to become a full-time farmer to reap the benefits.

Here are a few ways that growing just a few vegetable plants can be great for your health:

Better Nutrition

First of all, if you choose to grow fruits and vegetables in your garden, you can greatly improve your nutrition and diet, and therefore your overall health, by eating foods that you know aren’t covered in chemicals and pesticides. Heirloom seeds are easy to come by these days, and even starting with simple plants like tomatoes are cucumbers will give you delicious and healthy meal options. Plus, kids are always way more excited to try food they grew than some new fruit you bring home from the store.

More Physical Activity

Starting a garden or potting a few plants on your deck is far easier than tackling an aggressive workout plan and cheaper than a gym membership. Gardening is a perfect excuse to get physical, and that added exercise has been linked to longer lifespans. Besides, it’s much easier to complete a low-impact gardening workout because you’re focused on the task, not the physical activity itself. The physical act of gardening has even been shown to reduce the risk of dementia in older patients.

Improved Mood

Even if you just want to grow flowers to add color to your landscaping, gardening can improve your mood and make you happier. Many nature-based activities have been shown to make people feel better, but gardening in particular reduces stress and helps you relax. Some scientists have even found that a harmless bacteria found in soil increases the release of serotonin, which regulates your mood and improves cognitive function. Even the sense of community brought on by gardening and sharing food and flowers can help you lead a happier life.

Increased Vitamin D

Most of us need more vitamin D, a nutrient that helps prevent illness, regulates our weight and just makes us happier in general. The time you spend in the sun while gardening helps boost levels of vitamin D. Even just 20 or 30 minutes a few times a week pulling weeds, pruning plants or picking fruit can give your body the extra vitamin D it needs to keep you healthy. Increased time in the sun has also been shown to help hospital patients heal faster and get well sooner.

Environmentally Friendly

Finally, gardening is good for the environment, which in turn leads to better health for everyone. In your own yard or your community plot, gardening improves the soil, and composting keeps tons of waste out of landfills. Also, more plants help reduce pollution and improve the air quality in your home and neighborhood. Both flower and vegetable gardens attract bees, butterflies and other insects that are important for the environment, but are increasingly endangered by new development and corporate farming practices.

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