The Benefits of Gardening in the Sunlight

The Benefits of Gardening in the Sunlight

By Marc Sorenson, EdD, Sunlight Institute

While contemplating my youth,  growing up on our farm and ranch on the Utah/Nevada border, I mused on the amount of sunlight exposure that the hard summer work required. I was in the fields much of the time and spent a lot of time moving irrigation water, bucking hay bales and building and repairing fences. When the work allowed it, I shed my shirt until the sun became uncomfortable and then donned my cowboy hat and a long-sleeved shirt to protect against getting too much of that wonderful UV light. Some work, such as throwing hay bales on wagons, did not allow a bare body, because alfalfa hay is very scratchy. Much of the time, however, I was able to soak up the sun, going shirtless whether driving a tractor or chasing down recalcitrant cattle and sheep on my horse. My hands were often in the earth as I planted gardens and barley and alfalfa fields. Occasionally, I overdid the sun exposure and paid the price with a sunburn, but that was an infrequent occurrence. My friends called me “the brown man” although I am a blue-eyed, light skinned Caucasian. My tan was very deep; hence the moniker.

Those halcyon days of my youth were summer days, and I was never ill in that season; all of that sunlight kept me well, and it also helped to keep my mood elevated. Melanoma was never a worry for me or for the other farm boys and girls who lived in that area, and I have heard of no one who grew up there who ever contracted the disease, although they had the same ethnicity as I. Of course, lack of melanoma was to be expected, because people who spend much of their life in the sun are far less likely to contract melanoma than those whose stay indoors. For example, Diane Godar and her colleagues have presented evidence that outdoor workers, while receiving 3-9 times the sunlight exposure as indoor workers, have had no increase in melanoma since before 1940, whereas melanoma incidence in indoor workers has increased steadily and exponentially.[1] [2] [3]

This cogitating on my youth was triggered by reading an article entitled A senior moment: Get ‘down and dirty’ — Gardening is good for you![4] It discussed all the benefits of gardening and related some research regarding its therapeutic use:

  1. Exercise that strengthens both the upper-and lower-body muscles, and especially hand strength

  2. Reduces arthritis

  3. Promotes circulation

  4. Reduces heart rate

  5. Lowers blood pressure

  6. Burns calories

  7. Improves sleep

  8. Exposes the body to sunlight (hooray) to reset the circadian rhythms and combat depression

  9. Promotes better nutrition

  10. Increases self-esteem

  11. Gives a better sense of time

  12. Provides aromatherapy

Of course, some of these benefits of gardening are really benefits of sunlight, as mentioned in the article. However, there may be another factor at play; when we connect with the earth, it improves our health,[5] including heart health[6] and mood[7] through a transfer of electrons from the earth to our bodies.

What have we lost as we have adopted our sedentary, indoor lifestyles? Among other things, we have lost our good nutrition, our sunlight exposure and our contact with the earth. It is no wonder that working in a garden has such beneficial effects on our health! It gives us back at least some of our basic human health needs. So if you don’t have a garden, find one and get out in the sunlight!

Having been reminded of some of those vital  needs, I am anticipating with alacrity my upcoming week at my Nevada ranch, where I will rusticate with my wife Vicki and my friends, Drs. Bill Grant and Adiel Tel-Oren. We will be soaking up the sunshine, feeling the dark mountain soil, eating nutritious foods and exulting in the beauty of the aspens and pines. We will also be renewing friendships with the birds, the ducks, the deer, the Elk, the wild turkeys and other wildlife that have no worries about us, because we don’t kill and eat them.

Sunlight, peace and friendships—it doesn’t get any better than this!

[1] Godar D, Landry, R, Lucas, A. Increased UVA exposures and decreased cutaneous Vitamin D3 levels may be responsible for the increasing incidence of melanoma. Med Hypotheses 2009;72(4):434-43

[2] Godar D. UV doses worldwide. Photochem Photobiol 2005;81:736–49.

[3] Thieden E, Philipsen PA, Sandby-Møller J, Wulf HC. UV radiation exposure related to age, sex, occupation, and sun behavior based on time-stamped personal dosimeter readings. Arch Dermatol 2004;140:197–203.

[4] http://www.chicoer.com/opinion/20150417/a-senior-moment-get-down-and-dirty-x2014-gardening-is-good-for-you.

[5] Oschman JL, Chevalier G, Brown R. The effects of grounding (earthing) on inflammation, the immune response, wound healing, and prevention and treatment of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. J Inflamm Res. 2015 Mar 24;8:83-96.

[6] Chevalier G, Sinatra ST, Oschman JL, Delany RM. Earthing (grounding) the human body reduces blood viscosity-a major factor in cardiovascular disease. J Altern Complement Med. 2013 Feb;19(2):102-10

[7] Chevalier G. The effect of grounding the human body on mood. Psychol Rep. 2015 Apr;116(2):534-43

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