What is one of the best ways to lower your grocery bills and provide a fun and free form of physical activity? If you said by growing them yourself and gardening you are exactly right! Few people would argue that there is a better tasting tomato than one fresh from the vine, but gardening can also help Veterans stay in shape!
Whether you own a home with lots of acreage, or live in an apartment, there are many ways to start gardening. For those of us with limited outdoor space, container gardening may be the way to go. Containers allow the option of planting a variety of plants in a multitude of different sized pots and containers (ask an expert at your local gardening center for assistance in choosing containers based on your outdoor space and the plants you wish to grow). Raised bed gardens are another option that has become popular. With the right tools you may choose to build your own, or purchase a raised bed garden kit at your local garden center.
If outdoor space is a problem many cities and towns offer community gardens within your neighborhoods. This gives people a chance to manage a garden in another location outside of their home and the ability to mingle with your neighbors. Your local extension office or park district can give more information on community gardens and may offer free seedling starters!
When we have fresh vegetables at our doorstep it makes it easy to implement a healthy plate. Check out Choose My Plate for tips. Half of the food on your plate should come from fruits and vegetables. It is important to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables from a wide array of colors. Be sure to include dark green along with red and orange fruits and vegetables in your daily diet. All of these foods can be grown in your very own garden. You may need to talk with your PACT dietitian about specific disease conditions that may prevent you from eating certain foods or nutrients.
As I mentioned before, heavy gardening such as digging and shoveling can even strengthen muscles and bones. Along with an increase in physical activity gardening can also be therapeutic. It can be a time of solace to unwind and relax and relieve stress and tension from your day.
Talk with your PACT team for referrals to your dietitian, physical therapist, social worker, or mental health specialist for more information on healthy eating, ways to incorporate exercise into your daily routine, community food assistance programs and stress management activities.
Kasey Vagedes, MS, RD is a clinical dietitian working in both inpatient and outpatient areas at the Dayton, OH VA Medical Center. She has been employed with VA for four years and enjoys spring time and outdoor gardening in her own back yard and community.