How a Garden-Fresh Tomato Can Be TherapeuticIf you've grown your own vegetables, herbs or fruits, you know these fresh foods can be delicious. What you may not know is that the entire process of planting, growing and cultivating a garden can make you feel better physically and mentally. And it doesn't have to be edible plants -- flower gardens and mixed gardens have the same benefits. The beauty of gardening is that it can be a group or family activity that everyone can do together and your garden can be as big as your yard or just a corner by the fence.

If your doctor has suggested you need more exercise or need to lose weight, working in a garden might be for you. Gardening can help with endurance, flexibility and strength, according to a WebMD article. Gardening can also help you burn 100 to 200 calories an hour. Like any activity, you should stretch beforehand and be careful not to overdo it. The article recommends a regular schedule for your gardening and alternating between strenuous tasks such as digging and easier tasks like pruning.

To get the most benefits, you should plan to garden for at least 30 minutes a day, although you can break up tasks into 10-minute sessions and get the same benefits. With typical gardening activities, you'll get a good workout that is equal to a 30-minute walk. But since it involves your whole body, it will benefit more than just your leg muscles.

In fact, growing research shows that gardening is beneficial for the mind as well as the body, and can be therapeutic. A US National Library of Medicine website article, What Is the Evidence to Support the Use of Therapeutic Gardens for the Elderly?, discusses the benefits for our growing aging population. The authors note that horticultural therapy and garden settings can help with “reduction of pain, improvement in attention, lessening of stress, modulation of agitation, lowering of as-needed medications, antipsychotics and reduction of falls."

According to the researchers, when horticultural therapy is used for cognitive therapy, it helps patients learn new skills and regain lost skills and "is a restorative technique to improve memory, attention, sense of responsibility and social interaction with few to no adverse side effects." In addition, nine out of 10 patients in a case study indicated significant improvement in self-esteem with horticultural therapy. Even indoor gardens, the researchers point out, have been reported to be effective for improving sleep, agitation and cognition in dementia patients.

You don't need to be a medical expert, however, to know that most people respond to the beauty of a garden, whether it's the vivid colors of flowers or leaves, the smell of the earth and plants, or the birds and butterflies that are drawn to the garden. Even those who can't actively participate in the actual planting or growing activities can reap the benefits of a garden by being in a natural setting that appeals to all the senses. If you're gardening for yourself, you'll not only feel better, you'll also be creating beauty that others can enjoy.