08 Apr Celebrating the Health Benefits of Gardening with Dr. Casey Davidson and Williamson Medical Group
As the days grow longer and warmer, many Williamson County residents are already planning their next gardening projects. As we head into the spring planting season, three Williamson County physicians weighed in on some of gardening’s biggest health payoffs.
Nurturing and caring for plants and simply spending time outdoors can help boost your mood, ease anxiety, and introduce more fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet, said Williamson Medical Group’s (WMG) Dr. Paula Dunn, a family medicine physician. “The most frequent complaints I hear from patients are lifestyle-induced,” she said, “and gardening can have a big impact on lifestyle.” If you struggle to sleep, Dunn suggests spending a little more time outdoors. “Most people work all day indoors and have multiple sources of artificial light and stimulation that actually alter our brain chemistry,” she said. “Daily exposure to UV light is critical to our circadian rhythm, and the physical exertion of gardening also helps with sleep.”
Dunn grew up gardening with her grandparents in southern Louisiana and currently lives on 15 acres in Maury County/Spring Hill, where she and her family grow vegetables, herbs and flowers. She recognizes the important role fresh fruits and vegetables play in our diets. “Fresh fruit and vegetables that have not sat on a shelf for an extended period are tastier and more nutritious,” she said. “While supplements can be helpful for certain conditions, our bodies generally don’t absorb or utilize nutrients from supplements as effectively as from food.”
Mobility and Strength
Dr. Casey Davidson, an orthopaedic surgeon at Bone and Joint Institute of Tennessee, spent several summers working as a landscaper when he was younger. The job instilled a deep love for gardening and outdoor projects. “My latest project was a raised flowerbed in our backyard,” Davidson said.
Gardening creates opportunities for exercise while doing something you enjoy, Davidson said. “Staying physically active improves your overall longevity and mobility while also improving your strength. Plus, it just makes you feel better.”
Davidson warns that injuries can occur while gardening, but most can usually be treated with ice and rest. “Most gardening injuries occur in the low back,” he said. “That’s because of the repetitive bending and twisting and occasional lifting.” The key to avoiding injury, Davidson said, is planning ahead. “If you’re moving or planting something heavy, ask someone for assistance or use equipment that helps to minimize strain on the lower back,” he said. Davidson also advises building core strength and taking other protective measures, such as wearing a back brace, if needed.
“Our lives are very hectic,” said Claire Davis, MSN, CFNP, Family Nurse Practitioner in WMG’s Gastroenterology (GI) Practice. “We have to have time to slow down and be present in our bodies,” she said. Davis says she finds stress relief in cultivating figs, something the longtime gardener began after her father passed away four years ago. “My dad had a huge fig tree in his backyard,” she said. “I wanted to move that fig tree but realized I couldn’t, so I learned how to do cuttings.” Davis nurtured the cuttings in pots until they grew large enough to plant in her backyard. “Pretty much any available soil in my backyard now has a fig tree in it.”
Davis said stress can contribute to many symptoms patients may experience, such as nausea or belly pain. “Sometimes, the issue is a functional GI disorder where something in the patient’s life – whether it’s diet, stress, or anxiety – is inducing these conditions.” Gardening, Davis said, can be a good stress reliever because in addition to helping “ground you in your body,” it also offers a physical release.
To view the full April 2022 issue of Your Williamson, click here.