The spring season is approaching, the days are getting longer and the angle of the sun is getting steeper. The longer days and slowly increasing temperatures put us all in the mood to be outdoors and more active. A few simple precautions can help make the transition from couch potato to marathon gardener/ farmer a little healthier and safer.
Start preparing your body now! Do some stretching and strengthening exercises, take a Yoga class and include some aerobic exercising in the mix. In several studies, exercising was shown to be as effective as anti-depressant drugs in alleviating the symptoms of depression. (I don’t expect the drug companies want you to know this). Exercise also releases substances in the brain that increase our sense of well being. Recently, animal and human studies showed that exercise actually increases neurogenesis (production of neurons in the brain), and this has positive implications for our cognitive functioning. Physiological benefits of aerobic exercise include significant improvement in motor function, auditory and visual attention and memory. Exercise can lower our blood pressure, and studies that have been done with individuals between 60 and 74 years of age show that the best cognitive performance is found in individuals with normal blood pressure. Exercise not only lowers blood pressure but also improves the health of our entire cardiovascular system.
Exercise also strengthens bones, helps reduce body fat, and reduces stress, tension and anxiety. And what else can it do, you ask? Well . . . it can boost self-esteem, improve sleep and make you look fit. If we were all prescribed exercise instead of the boatload of drugs forced down our throats (pun intended), I’ll bet most of us would be able to afford health insurance — or better yet, not need it.
Whatever exercise you choose is more likely to be effective if it is fun (like dancing, walking in nature), since the positive feelings it evokes will help ensure that you continue to exercise over time.
Keeping our bodies in good physical condition ensures that when the season does begin we are ready. Our musculoskeletal system will be ready to take on the strenuous activities of farming and gardening, and we will have the endurance to work the long hours that usually go with the growing season. You can find instructions for stretching, strengthening exercises and yoga poses on our website, at https://www.greenherontools.com/staying-healthy_stretching-strengthening-intro.php. Also check out the body mechanics section to find out how to use your body as a tool and prevent injuries. https://www.greenherontools.com/staying-healthy.php#usingyourbody
Also remember that as we start to spend more time in the outdoors our skin and eyes will be exposed to more of the solar radiation that can increase the likelihood of chronic eye diseases as we age. A simple preventative measure is to wear a hat with a large brim to keep out the harmful rays, or better yet wear sunglasses designed to keep out UV rays. Our skin needs equal protection from the harmful rays of the sun either by wearing clothing that acts as a barrier or sunscreen that also acts as a barrier. Too much sun exposure has been associated with several skin cancers and premature aging of the skin, including wrinkles. Conversely some exposure to the sun is necessary for the production of Vitamin D, which is correlated with a decrease in some cancers. Is there any clear answer to what is the best choice to ensure a healthy life? I don’t believe so, but to me moderation is a path I will always choose for myself.
Now all that said, let me say that I believe that gardening and farming offer ample opportunities for living a long healthy and joyful life. Being outside in nature has long been associated with a sense of well being, and I do not need a double blind study to convince me of that. Anyone who takes a walk in spring and is present enough to hear the birds singing or the song of the first skidamarinks , to see the grass greening and leaves emerging from last year’s buds with all the promise of a new year, (a rebirth of sorts) cannot but be moved to amazement and gratitude for this miracle. The hormones released at these times are associated with positive feelings and they are associated with wellness. Add to this the abundance of fresh organic healthy food available to people who grow their own. How can we not be on the path to wellness? So the motivation for taking care of oneself can come from (as it does for me) wanting to engage in growing for as long as I can. To each year find new and exciting varieties of vegetables , to touch the earth with hands and heart, to gaze upon the abundance that hard work provides, to breathe clean air, to see the beauty all around me and know I play some small role in it, to watch the chickens roaming freely, to watch tiny seeds turn into our food for the next year, to bring family and friends together to celebrate the harvest is enough for me to want to live this life as long as I can, even if it means I have to ride the stationary bike all winter long. I am sure that I needed to be reminded of all these things as the wind is blowing and it is 22 degrees outside and I expect that some of you will also appreciate the reminder. Now to the bike! – Ann