Cultivating for Menopause

By: Red Hot Mamas

Published: May 26, 2010

Spring has blossomed for most of us in the lower forty-eight. Our beloved tulips mark the beginning of the spring season with their vibrant colors and exquisite blossoms. If some of you are reading this with snow out your window, be patient…it’s coming. Last weekend, I was tilling, fertilizing and preparing my small garden for planting. After hauling a few wheelbarrows full of weeds, I gaze at my vegetable plot. I ponder the garden and its tangible symbolism of cyclic growth. As I sow my seeds for the season, I think how therapeutic and rewarding gardening is. My garden reflects who I am as a person. As I experience the physical and emotional uneasiness of menopause, I am becoming more health conscious and diet is a priority. I want to make sure to reap the most nutritional benefits from the 300 square foot pile of dirt in my yard. What should I plant for my Grand Climacteric Garden?

Therapeutic Aspects of Gardening

With such a wide array of types of gardens, you can surely find one to suit your lifestyle and geographic location. Whether you have a green thumb or a brown thumb, many varieties of gardens exist besides the traditional flower or vegetable kind. Cactus gardens, rock gardens, bird gardens and butterfly gardens are among a few of the varieties. Exploring and discovering gardening opens a world of opportunities. Gardening can stimulate the mind, reduce stress and lift your self-esteem. Researchers at the University of Florida have found that merely walking through a botanical garden lowered people’s stress levels. Senses can be stimulated and tensions tamed by enjoying the colors, sounds and smells of gardens. Gardening focuses your mind and gives a sense of accomplishment.

A recent study from Massey University (in New Zealand) surveyed 145 middle aged women gardeners. The results indicated the main reason they garden is for the “spiritual sense of wellbeing they get from spending time in their gardens.” Although gardening has incredible physical benefits, it is also has many intangible benefits. The psychological and emotional benefits are often overlooked. The study delineated three distinct groups of gardeners dependent on womens’ motives and involvement with gardening. The “happy healthy gardeners, even-keeled gardeners and introspective gardeners” were the groups.

Introspective gardeners were unique from the other two profiles. Most of these women were in menopause (45% of whom had hysterectomies). Gardening was literally a lifesaver for these women who found it to be a large part of their mental stability. Happy healthy gardeners were generally post menopausal women. These gardeners tend to be content and learned “the art of relaxing in their garden.” They enjoy the activity as a hobby rather than a primary life focus. Even-keeled gardeners are somewhere between happy healthy and introspective gardeners.

Gardening For Exercise

Exercising does not mean having to sweat it out and labor for hours at the gym. There are many other forms of exercise that are just as beneficial to your health such as gardening. Researchers consider gardening a form of moderate exercise. It has been found to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, help prevent type II diabetes, heart disease and strokes. Dr. Mark Harries from the Royal College of Physicians confirms that gardening has positive physical effects. “Physical activity is always useful for the body. If it’s something you enjoy – like gardening – then that’s even better. It means that your exercising is not a chore.” Here is a list of gardening activities and the amount of calories burned for each based on a 150 pound woman from dietwatch.com:

ACTIVITY – CALORIES BURNED IN 30 MINUTES:

  • Seeding, walking – 85
  • Picking fruits and vegetables – 102
  • General gardening – 136
  • Raking – 146
  • Cultivating your garden – 153
  • Weeding your garden – 153
  • Trimming shrubs or trees – 153
  • General yard work – 170
  • Digging – 170
  • Shoveling/spreading dirt – 170
  • Tilling – 204

Gardening is a good way to keep your limbs moving and working hard. It exercises your arms, legs, back, chest and stomach. Gardening provides numerous activities and varieties of exercises promoting a good workout. Take into consideration the fact that gardening tasks such as digging, composting, raking and planting burn as many calories per hour as walking briskly. Chopping wood and mowing the lawn burn as many calories per hour as hiking or downhill skiing! When considering gardening (or any other activity) for exercise, it is important to consider safety. Here is some advice:

  • Protect your back as you work:
    • use long-handled tools
      kneel or sit as much as possible
      don’t stand or bend while using hand tools
      bend from your knees, not from your back
  • Dress appropriately:
    • wear gloves
      use sunscreen and a hat (hats also protect from insect bites and scratches)
      Stay hydrated
      Limit your activity to mornings during the hot summer months

What to Grow

As previously mentioned, there are many options when planning a garden. There are numerous types of gardens you can choose from! Your decisions should reflect your personality, your lifestyle and your geographic location. Choose from a variety of herbs and vegetables if you’re looking to spice up your kitchen. If you opt for a fruit or vegetable garden, make sure you have a wide variety of plants so you won’t get tired of eating the same thing over and over again. What does your family like to eat? Select resistant varieties appropriate for your hardiness zone. Prepare and maintain the garden to reap the benefits of this highly underrated and often forgotten form of exercise!

As I plan my garden, I want to make sure to have a variety of vegetables that will ease my menopausal symptoms and promote healthy living. Fruits like melons and citrus are high in potassium and balance sodium and water retention aiding relieving those hot flashes and bloating. Eating 5 or more servings of colorful fruits and vegetables a day promotes a healthy lifestyle. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables help fight cancer, heart disease and the effects of aging. They provide a wide range of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals. My general green rule of thumb is the wider the assortment, the better!

“Gardening requires lots of water – most of it in the form of perspiration.” -Lou Erickson

If you are interested in learning more about the Massey University study go to: Gardening good for the soul as well as the body

Learn abouthow botanical gardens relieve stress

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