THE new year is an exciting time when the promise of new beginnings lies ahead of us. It is also a time of self-reflection and motivates us to improve our lives. Usually, this includes changing our lifestyles to eat healthier and incorporate daily exercise for better health. Rather than waiting for an open exercise machine or joining an overfilled class at the gym, all you need to start a healthy regime is in your garden. Not only will your garden benefit from you spending time working in it, but your body will also be more robust and stronger too.Here are a few ways you stand to benefit from including gardening into your lifestyle this year: GET PHYSICAL While you might think of your garden as a haven of relaxation, digging, mowing, raking up leaves and pushing a wheelbarrow around the garden all help you to burn calories and tone up those muscles.That’s right, gardening is considered moderate-intensity exercise, which means working in the garden for 60 minutes can be equivalent to 35 minutes of jogging. There are also benefits to spending time planting and pruning, which can all contribute to low-intensity stretching exercises which have a host of benefits for your body and mind.By regularly stretching, you increase your flexibility and range of motion, both beneficial for pain reduction. EAT FIVE-A-DAY Growing your own fruits and vegetables often provides an abundant supply of the good stuff. It is recommended that you consume five-a-day of fruit and vegetables to lower the risk of health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. Easy access to freshly-grown foods in your own garden often means eating more fruits and vegetables which are high in fibre, vitamins and minerals to promote good health. STRENGTHEN YOUR BONES Working in the garden means you’ll be soaking up the sun.The sun provides vitamin D, which is beneficial in helping your body to absorb calcium for stronger bones and teeth and can also help reduce the risk of osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis.In addition, similar to weight training, gardening can improve bone density as your bones strengthen to cope with the resistance they endure while gardening. STRESS LESS The stress relieving benefits of gardening will do wonders for your brain.In addition to the fresh air you will be breathing, spending time in nature and nurturing plants have been proven to reduce cortisol levels, also known as the stress hormone.In addition, professor Chris Lowry from Colorado University is leading research showing that there are bacteria in soil that are proven to help increase the serotonin levels in your brain.So in addition to reducing stress, you’ll also be happier. While your health stands to benefit significantly from gardening, there are additional benefits that can be reaped from gardening too.The value of your property will increase with a beautifully maintained landscape. In addition, the environment benefits from new plants that purify the air around us.Visit www.lifeisagarden.co.za for some inspiration for improving your garden and your health in 2020; and pop into your nearest GCA Garden Centre for a wide range of gardening products to get your body moving and your garden growing. — Life is a Garden.