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Ahhhh: the smell of dirt

Author: Yehuda Shoenfeld

Don't let the view outside your window if you live in the Twin Cities today fool you. Gardening season is upon us.

Did you know that gardening is the 7th most common hobby in the U.S.?

It is not uncommon for avid gardeners to crawl over snow banks to attend a Home & Garden show in late winter. They head straight to check out the landscaping vendors who create displays of gorgeous garden and patio ideas filled with lovely spring blooming plants. Taking in the fragrance of the spring soil magically opens up the numbed senses of the long winter.

Yes, fresh dirt attracts gardeners like blooming flowers allure bees.

As greenhouses and garden centers are stocking up with plants and supplies to adorn our gardens, yards, patios and pots for the upcoming season, it's time for us to prepare our spaces and our bodies rephresh for embracing nature's freshness as well - rephresh.

How do we prep for this exciting newness and growth after the season of hibernation?

Start with moderation. Recall when you were younger and started training for spring sports. Early season training for track, softball, baseball, running, biking or other recreation was invigorating. You may not need to train like you did in those days (and be sore for a week) to stimulate some of the same endorphins provided by outside activities such as walking or gardening.

Fresh air and sunshine can do wonders for one's physiology and psychology by boosting immunity and positive emotions. Outside exercise is also perceived as less ominous than the treadmill you've had a love/hate relationship with during the last several months.

Walking in a yard, garden or a boulevard is better for your joints and balance than walking in the mall, on a treadmill or even a sidewalk. The natural magnetic qualities of the earth, which are healthy for our bodies, do not pass through metal or cement. That means dig in the dirt, hike in the woods or walk on the beach whenever possible.

Immersing in nature is one way to lower blood pressure and is commonly felt as "therapeutic" by lovers of the outdoors. To optimize the experience when it comes to working outside (although true gardeners would argue it's "work"), it is important to dress appropriately and use the right equipment.

Here are a few tips to consider to enhance your gardening experience:

Have an overall yard/garden "plan" to avoid unnecessary reworking and frustration.
Dress warm and stretch muscles to keep from straining when working on cool days.
Wear gloves to minimize calluses when using tools and to minimize skin stains from plants and soil.
Get the hammock put up by Memorial Day.
Use a kneeling pad or knee pads when planting or weeding.
Keep soil moist and tools sharp. Working in hard soil or with poor tools is hardest on backs, shoulders and wrists.
Spring is a fast season and summer gets busy. The MN Landscape Arboretum offers gardening tips to keep your month-to-month adventure on track.
Take advantage of the oxygen produced by plants and negative ions after thunderstorms for improving your disposition.
Weather happens. Growth happens. Not unlike cute little puppies who grow quickly into dogs, know that your sweet little plants will grow fast and require ongoing "training and grooming".
Lifting, twisting, bending and kneeling are normal repetitive activities for gardeners. Having your chiropractor be your new bff throughout the season would be a good idea. Your body will thank you and you'll enjoy your masterpiece even more.
Spend at least 20 minutes in the sun daily when possible - that level of Vitamin D from sunshine cannot be duplicated by any dietary supplement.
Drink plenty of water - not only on the days that are very warm.
Use non-toxic insect repellent.
Take an hour break in the hammock at least weekly.
Finish long days of yard and garden planting or maintenance by soaking in a salt bath with lavender essential oil.
Make your outside experience a family affair when possible. Creating a special space for outdoor entertaining, tranquility and joy will go a long way to improving your health and enhancing your connection to not only with yourself, friends and family, but also Mother Nature. She'll keep you smiling long after the snow flies next winter.

References: Accelerated atherosclerosis in autoimmune rheumatic diseases Y Shoenfeld, R Gerli, A Doria, E Matsuura, MM Cerinic, N Ronda, LJ Jara, ... Circulation 112 (21), 3337-3347 2005