Living Well

Gardening Feeds Your Body and Spirit

Plus: a new belt that tracks activity and a warning against over-exfoliating your skin.

By Hannah Wallace March 1, 2016 Published in the March 2016 issue of Sarasota Magazine

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It’s March, time to get your spring garden going so that you can soon reap the nutritional boon of fresh-from-the-yard veggies. The health benefits of a vegetable garden are pretty apparent, right? (Remember, the government’s new nutritional guidelines recommend even more vegetables in your diet.) The mere presence of those vegetables in your yard turns the garden into a constant, healthy temptation.

But the psychological benefits of gardening shouldn’t be overlooked, says Dr. Robert Kluson of the Sarasota extension of University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Kluson often speaks on the topic of “contemplative food gardening,” which highlights wellness throughout the growing process—not just the healthy eating at the end. From the creativity used in planning the layout to the meditative time spent weeding and watering, the mindfulness of gardening, he argues, is just as beneficial as the nutritional aspect.

And, of course, there’s also the sense of well-being and satisfaction earned through a successful growing season and truly homemade meals.

Plant the Idea

Six ways gardening grows your mind.

  1. Time spent outdoors among plants: a proven stress reliever.
  2. The learning process: Researching and experimenting with best growing practices makes for a personal science class to engage your brain.
  3. Physical distraction: keeps your eyes and hands busy, allowing for inward reflection.
  4. Creative outlet: planning and implementing a garden’s beauty as well as its utility.
  5. Engages all five senses: Just imagine the sight, feel, sound, smell and taste of a snow pea fresh off the vine.
  6. A Zen-like yielding of control: Work in tandem with nature, but accept that it’s the one ultimately in charge.

Grow Your Own

Five nutritious, delicious plants to try in your Southwest Florida spring garden.

Sweet potato: An excellent source of vitamin A, sweet potatoes do well in sandy soil and tropical climes. (Look for the Florida-friendly Centennial or Beauregard varieties.)

Brussels sprouts: The high-fiber sprout, a cousin of cabbage, is jam-packed with nutrients and will grow best if we have a cooler spring. (They’re amazing halved and roasted.)

Summer squash: For warmer weather, summer squash is rich in nutrition and flavor. (Try it sliced and steamed along with sweet onion.)

Okra: Great for vitamins A and C as well as magnesium, it’s the key ingredient in gumbo. (Just be sure to protect your okra if there’s a late frost.)

Thyme: A valuable fresh herb for seasoning all sorts of dishes. (Or dry it in newspaper and store it for later use.)

The Exfoliate Debate

Oily skin? Acne troubles? You may feel compelled to pick up the soap and scrubbers in order to rid your face of that icky oily feeling, but think twice, warns esthetician Rebecca Hopps of Bloom Organics on Siesta Drive.

“People harm their skin when they over-exfoliate,” she says. “If they have oily or acne-prone skin, they think they need [exfoliation] to keep their pores clean, but a lot of times they’re just making the breakouts more irritated.”

Older people, too, tend to turn toward exfoliation in a misguided attempt to gain younger-looking skin. “They end up drying out their skin and thinning it too much,” says Hopps.

Instead, Hopps recommends adhering to a consistent skincare program: “Good products, regular facials, good diet,” she says, and after you establish a healthy routine, “The skin should balance out and clear up, and you won’t be compelled to over-exfoliate.” Of course, the first step is to consult a professional who’s familiar with the range of products available on the market, one, she says, “who can teach you how to properly exfoliate.”

Belty: Where Fashion Meets Fitness

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Check out the fashion lover’s answer to the Fitbit: Belty Good Vibes, an actual belt that also tracks activity. Made in France (in partnership with fashion house L’Aiglon), the high-end leather belt is intended to meet discerning fashion standards, while the buckle interacts with your smartphone via an app. But it doesn’t just track your movement; Belty uses learning algorithms to adjust to your lifestyle. The product communicates with you via vibrations in the buckle that can spur you to activity if you’ve been sitting too long, or encourage you to increase your pace when walking or climbing stairs, among other cues. Pre-order now at

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