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Living in Florida, we are fortunate to have a climate that pretty much supports year-round growing of produce. Of course, the actual fruits and vegetables that you grow are good for your health, but did you know the act of gardening can be beneficial, too? Studies have shown that being physically active outdoors improves mood, anxiety and self-esteem. Unless you are hauling away wheel barrels full of dirt, you probably won’t get significant cardiovascular benefits from gardening, but it does qualify as a low-impact physical activity that can improve strength, balance and flexibility.

Never gardened before? Growing your own herbs, eggplants, tomatoes, okra and peppers is easy in our sunny and warm weather.  You don’t need to devote much space to start. A small container outside is a great way to grow and can yield a surprising amount of food. For example, one cherry tomato plant in a medium-sized pot can yield more than a pint of tomatoes a week.

“Growing your own food ensures that what you are eating is truly organic, free of pesticides, GMO’s and has been delivered straight from the garden to your table,” said Jennifer Elliott, who helps run the garden at the UCF Arboretum. “By choosing an organic soil and non-GMO seeds, and growing under your own conditions, you avoid the concern most individuals have with consuming non-organic, commercially grown produce. Additionally, home grown, organic produce just tastes better and provides a cooking satisfaction that you can only understand when you do it.”

Growing your own produce is a great way to reduce your grocery bill, too. Think about the foods you buy most often and see if it is possible to grow them at home. Herbs are a great way to get started. And by only plucking what you need, you waste less food.

Growing some of your own foods can also help instill healthy eating habits in children. Kids are more likely to try something new if they feel ownership in the process, and gardening is a great way to get them involved.

Not ready to start your own garden? You can volunteer in the UCF Arboretum during its posted volunteer hours and take home the fruits of your labor. It’s open year round and is always growing seasonal produce. Check for volunteer times.

Weekly Health Tips are brought to you by UCF Health, the College of Medicine’s physician practice. Offering primary and specialty care under one roof, UCF Health treats patients age 16 and up in primary care and age 18 and up for specialty care. Most major insurance plans are accepted. Two locations are now open: the original in East Orlando at Quadrangle and University boulevards just blocks from the main UCF campus, and the newest one in Medical City at Narcoossee Road and Tavistock Lakes Boulevard. Information for both facilities can be found at, or call (407) 266-DOCS to schedule an appointment.

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