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Gardening is one of the best ways to tune your body into the seasonal fluctuations in your environment.
Gardening is one of the best ways to tune your body into the seasonal fluctuations in your environment.

Health, Seven Days, Dr. Mao

Dr. Mao's Wellness Living: Garden For The Planet And Your Health

Dr. Mao Shing Ni
Courtesy Photo
Dr. Mao Shing Ni

Posted Jun. 3, 2012, 1:45 am

Dr. Mao Shing Ni / Mirror Columnist

You may have a few humble window boxes or an ambitious veggie plot, but did you realize that when you’re playing in the dirt, you’re protecting your physical and mental health? Gardening is one of the best ways to tune your body into the seasonal fluctuations in your environment. Plus, it can reduce incidence of heart disease, osteoporosis, stress, and weight gain. No wonder this is one of the most common hobbies amongst centenarians around the world! And the best news? Studies show that you don’t need to dig up your entire yard to reap these benefits, a few houseplants or urban window boxes will do the trick!

Balance Mental Health and Reclaim Your Zest for Life!

There are many ways to look at gardening: as a vehicle for healthy food, as a physical activity, as a satisfying check-off on your to-do list, or, for many, as an anti-stress tool. While most of us can attest to feeling better when we’re surrounded by flowers, vegetables, and green plants, that’s just the tip of the pea pod! Gardening is a discipline, and as such, it requires patience, but also cultivates fortitude, and in the end, brings both tangible rewards and bountiful joy to its practitioners. Studies on individuals suffering from anxiety or dementia also contend that gardening helps calm agitation and improve quality of sleep while normalizing sleep patterns. Additionally, researchers from Texas A&M University recently found through interviews that self-identified gardeners had significantly more feelings of optimism, resolution, and “zest for life” than other participants.

Beat Diabetes by Gardening Regularly

No matter what your age or health condition, you always have the opportunity to extend your longevity and prevent future degeneration. Many physical activities that form our daily routines – including the squatting, lifting, pulling, and digging involved in gardening – count as exercise and can help strengthen your immune system, all while reducing your susceptibility to a number of conditions, the most pervasive of which is diabetes. If you garden less frequently, you should still consider that time as beneficial to your health! By gardening daily, you can help to reduce sugar in your bloodstream by using your muscles to burn up the excess blood sugars that can lead to diabetes. Communities with access to fresh, local food (and what’s more local than your own backyard or community garden?) have lower diabetes rates than those without.

Food for thought: Not only does the physical activity help reduce your risk of diabetes, but that fresh foods and herbs you’re producing will certainly help. For centuries Chinese Medicine has used herbs to help regulate your blood sugar. My formula, called B-Slim, has many herbs that will not only help to regulate our blood sugar, but also help to control appetite and craving, eliminate bloating, improve digestion and increase fat metabolism.

Where to start: Get Growing!

Starting a garden can seem daunting – there’s weeding, seeding, and sweating. Plus, if you’re living in an urban environment, there’s the question of space and innovation. I suggest that you team up with your local garden club or community garden to get tips, learn techniques, or get your own little plot of land in the middle of the city. Community gardens and clubs are more prevalent now than ever, so take advantage! If you’re looking to start growing your own herb garden for cooking or healing (or both!) here are a few of my easy-to-grow and good-for-you favorites.

1. Basil is a sun-loving plant that has been cultivated for 5,000 years in Asia. Medicinally, basil is used for respiratory conditions, to aid with digestion, and reduce anxiety. If you’re putting it in your home garden, try companion planting basil with tomatoes – they thrive better when grown together!

2. Calendula, or marigold, is both pretty and potent. Used for its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties since the 12th century, this flower is good for soothing fevers and inflammation, lowering blood pressure, and healing minor skin infections. Plant calendula in well-drained soil outside or in indoor planters. Once established, this easy-to-grow flower only needs to be watered a few times a week.

3. Tomatoes are one of the easiest fruits to grow in your home or garden, so long as they have plenty of sun! Use tomatoes to help with detoxification, digestion, and managing your cholesterol. Try tiny cherry tomatoes or go big with heirlooms.

4. Dill can be grown in a container garden or even as a potted house plant. It grows tall, so make sure it isn’t going to block out sun from your other plants, and put it in a place where it won’t become damaged by strong winds. Dill can be eaten fresh or steeped as a tea. It is used to treat indigestion, flatulence, yeast infections, and low energy.

May you Live Long, Live Strong, and Live Happy!

Dr. Mao Shing Ni, best known as Dr. Mao is a bestselling author, doctor of Oriental Medicine and board certified anti-aging expert. He has appeared regularly on “Dr. Oz,” “The Doctors,” and “EXTRA.” Dr. Mao practices acupuncture, nutrition, and Chinese medicine with his associates at the Tao of Wellness in Santa Monica and Newport Beach. Dr. Mao and his brother, Dr. Daoshing Ni founded Tao of Wellness more than 25 years ago in addition to also founding Yo San University in Marina del Rey. To subscribe to his tip-filled newsletter please visit To make an appointment for evaluation and treatment please call 310.917.2200 or you can email Dr. Mao at

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Jun. 3, 2012, 6:17:18 am

Helen said...

Excellent article for people to see the medical advantages of this healthy activity. Suggested plants on what to start with - great for beginners. It's an activity which shows results fast - rewarding. Become more self-sufficient, grow healthier food and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels to acquire our food - a step in the right direction. We should all strive to plant our own food, can and preserve what we grow, to help reduce our footprint on the planet - like our grandparents did.

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