VCE Agents: For Personal and Community Health, Start Gardening

Whether planting a small container garden on a patio or tending a large backyard vegetable plot, gardening offers positive health impacts that can advance the well-being of all Virginians. Through research-based horticultural education, Virginia Cooperative Extension can help make these positive health benefits accessible.

Molly Beardslee, an associate Extension agent in Page County, and Kimberly Hoffman, an Extension agent in Stafford County, recommend gardening as a source of physical exercise and as a way to improve mental health:

  • Pulling, digging, reaching, and twisting as part of gardening is considered light aerobic exercise, which can help improve heart and lung health.
  • Gardening can help lessen anxiety and depressive symptoms, lower your heart rate and cortisol levels (stress hormone), and increase positive emotions.
  • Gardening can help combat loneliness and isolation by creating social connections, which is more important as people age.
  • Research shows that gardening can increase self-satisfaction by giving individuals a sense of purpose, and it can help form better social networks.

Beardslee and Hoffman have seen the positive impacts of gardening firsthand.

“We have a cooperative-style community garden in Page that is a great site for people to interact with one another,” Beardslee said. “Especially in the last few years, it’s been a great spot for senior center groups to come and get outside and get some produce.”

Through their Extension office and community garden, Page County also offers Free Market Fridays, where produce is distributed for free at the local farmers market, providing an opportunity for low-income community members to access fresh produce and learn about the community garden.

“Extension meets people where they are,” Beardslee said. “If you’re just starting with gardening, if you’ve got limited mobility or just a patio, Extension can provide education on gardening through our publications and the great resource of our Extension Master Gardeners.”

As they grow and strengthen Virginia’s horticultural communities, Virginia Cooperative Extension agents and Extension Master Gardeners are working to connect all Virginians with opportunities to experience the positive effects of gardening. Through research-based community education, local Extension offices connect you with the information, encouragement, and community relationships needed to grow as a gardener.

Beardslee and Hoffman are authors of the new Extension publication “Gardening for Health: Benefits for Adults,” available here.

Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners work in communities across the commonwealth to share knowledge and implement horticultural research that advances the well-being of all Virginians. Virginia Cooperative Extension brings the resources of Virginia’s land-grant universities, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, to the people of the commonwelath.

To learn more about gardening or join a community group of other passionate gardeners, contact your local Extension Master Gardener unit by searching for your county here or on Facebook.

Extension agents encourage gardening for exercise, stress reduction, and mental health.

– Devon Johnson

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