Planting and Harvesting Better Glucose Control

If your diabetes doctor tells you to reduce your stress, increase your activity level, and cut back on sugar intake there’s one enjoyable solution.

Gardening, whether in patio pots or backyard plots, provides mind and body health benefits that sync perfectly with diabetes management. These benefits are measurable, and science has been verifying the wellness perks gardeners have long enjoyed.

Stress Relief

Investigators found, for instance, that 30 minutes of gardening following a stressful activity was better at lowering cortisol* levels than a half hour of indoor reading. Plus, gardening restored people’s positive moods, while the time spent reading did not.

Planting or pulling weeds also gives us a much needed break from "directed attention," or focusing on tasks such as job reports, emails, or making phone calls. While caring for a garden we engage in a more effortless, restful, free-flowing attention that is attuned to the sights, sounds, smells, and textures around us. “The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses,” wrote author and artist Hanna Rion.

However, not all the stress relieving, mood boosting benefits of gardening occur above the soil. A bacterium commonly found in dirt, mycobacterium vaccae, mirrors the action of certain anti-depressants (e.g., Prozac) by stimulating the release of serotonin, one of our feel-good, mood brightening neurotransmitters.

Good Exercise

Beside helping us relax and be happy, tending a garden increases our overall activity level, and provides moderate to intense exercise. All the lifting, bending, pushing, and pulling required for plant cultivation works multiple muscle groups, and helps us stay strong, flexible, and maintain good balance.

The activities of digging and raking give us a high-intensity workout, while more moderate benefits come from hoeing, mulching, weeding, sowing, harvesting, watering, mixing growing mediums, and transplanting. Since gardeners often switch between activities over the course of an hour, these earthy workouts are typically varied and target different body areas.

Sugar Substitute

Although weeding and watering helps us stay fit, the most treasured garden perk may be partaking of its bounty, and those with diabetes can help themselves cut back on sugar consumption by harvesting stevia—a green plant with calorie-free sweet tasting leaves.

Dried stevia leaves, whether crushed by hand or powdered in a food processor, sweeten** food and drink without causing any elevation in blood glucose. Stevia leaves can also be used fresh during the growing season in lemonade or iced tea.

Each stevia plant needs about 18 inches of garden space to grow. Loose, loamy, well-drained soil is best for this perennial that thrives in warm sun, and withers after the first frost. Stevia plants will also thrive in 12 inch pots filled with a quality potting mix and placed in full sun.

Gardening is about enjoying the smell of things growing in the soil, getting dirty without feeling guilty, and generally taking the time to soak up a little peace and serenity. ~ Lindley Karstens

Sources: Mercola; HortTech; Bonnie Plants
Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture

*Cortisol is a hormone the body releases when we are stressed.

**An eighth teaspoon of powdered stevia equals the sweetness of a teaspoon of sugar.

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