Gardening Can Help You Thrive — Even After a Heart Attack

Gardening can help people thrive -- even in their darkest hour.

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I had a heart attack about a month ago and it kicked my ass. Sure, things could’ve been worse, I could’ve died.

Instead, I’ve learned to live and thrive despite having a possible end-of-life event.

In the middle of an email conversation with a friend back in the States, the discussion turned to gardening and the unexpected satisfaction we received years ago. That conversation grew into this post.

I’m a 65-year-old American writer living the expat life in Buenos Aires. The biggest stress I typically have is wondering if the building super understood my note about fixing the hot water spigot in my hot tub on my condo’s balcony. As I lay on the gurney in what passes for an emergency room in Argentina, I listed the things in life I was grateful for.:

My wife of almost nine-years,

The ability to earn a better-than-average living as a writer,

The fact that my Facebook page wasn’t covered in stickers and pictures of my college years. I have nothing but pity for those people who seem to have peaked sometime in their early twenties. Their best years were behind them and they would probably never enjoy the same level of enjoyment and connective ness again.

During the discharge interview, while the doctor prattled on about life-choices, destress and the other things he learned in med school, I realized I inherently knew the answer: putting my rooftop garden to good use. After lots of online research, I found I wasn’t alone.

Researchers have demonstrated a link between a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, fish and olive oil with slower aging

No one saw it coming, but the gardening frenzy took everyone by surprise, turning more and more people into green thumbs and encouraging them to hop on the sustainable living wagon. In case you’ve always wondered what you can do with that blank patch of soil in your home or outside your apartment, “Gangster Gardener” Ron Finley will teach you how to get your hands dirty by growing your own food! You’ll realize that gardening is so much more than meets the eye.

It is well-known that an outdoor lifestyle with moderate physical activity is linked to longer life, and gardening is an easy way to accomplish both. “If you garden, you’re getting some low-intensity physical activity most days, and you tend to work routinely,” says Bradley Willcox, MD, MSc and Professor and Director of Research at the Department of Geriatric Medicine at John A. Burns School of Medicine in Hawaii.

Willcox says there is evidence that gardeners live longer and are less stressed. A variety of studies confirm this, pointing to both the physical and mental health benefits of gardening.

Gardening won’t ultimately guarantee a longer lifespan. But some of the lifestyle factors associated with it – namely going outside, engaging in light physical activity and eating a healthy plant-based diet – just might.


“I use the analogy of a chair,” says Willcox. “Diet, physical activity, mental engagement and social connection are the four legs. If you don’t have one of them, you fall out of balance, and it can shorten life expectancy. Longevity isn’t about one single factor – it’s about not working too hard to share a constellation of them all.”

Jerry Nelson is an American writer living the expat life in Argentina. You can find him at any of hundreds of sidewalk cafes and hire him through Fiverr, join the quarter-million who follow him on Twitter or contact him at [email protected]

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