Fitness, Guest Post, My Story

Gardening for Body and Mind

By Rebecca Ocampo
Project Coordinator


Medulla Oblongata, Phlox Subulata, Calamagrostis Acutiflora, Panicum Virgatum – they may sound alike and look alike but are all very different. The medulla oblongata is the lower stalk-like section of the brain. The rest are plants: beautiful creeping phlox and exotic perennial grass. The photograph to the right is Phlox Subulata or creeping phlox. They bloom in the beginning to late spring and are perennials. They are used for garden edges or “fillers” near a stone wall.

There is an old Chinese proverb that goes like this: “If you drink tea, you will be happy for a day. If you roast a pig, you will be happy for a week. If you get married, you will be happy for three weeks. If you garden, you will be happy forever.”  My love of gardening peaked recently when I moved to the suburbs and found myself in an apartment surrounded by beautiful and lush forestry. Never did I imagine that gardening would be one of my priorities outside of work. It’s very relaxing and a healthy way to exercise. I’m outdoors and not connected to anything electronic.  Most of the time, I do not use my gardening gloves and dig right in the dirt.  It’s like making cake batter without utensils, if you will.  The texture is soothing to the skin.  It may have something to do with childhood, like making mud pies at the beach.

When I was growing up in the Philippines, my family’s ancestral home was surrounded by a variety of fruit trees (banana, avocado, mango and jackfruit) sugar cane, bamboo, and a variety of tropical and exotic flowers including different shades of hibiscus – all surrounding an in-ground (almost Olympic size) swimming pool. Flash forward to the United States where my mom, brother, and I visited several garden centers every Sunday. They would never agree to go to a mall, so it was either another pair of shoes for me or a Panicum Virgatum which is a metallic blue (sounds like shoes to me!) grass that blooms in late summer and grows up to 3’ in height and approximately 18” wide. It has pretty blue blades during the summer and turns to golden and bright yellow blades in the fall.

I mostly grow perennials:  orange and red tiger lilies, pink and white English daisies, bright orange poppies, vinca with purple flowers.  There are purple irises, red knock-out roses (tough roses that will come back every year no matter the weather) and some annuals like impatiens and pansies as well. The benefit of gardening is twofold.  First, it’s a good form of exercise because you rake, mow the lawn, pull weeds, thatch the grass, prune trees, and design your garden so it’s esthetically pleasing. Second, gardening exercises the mind. There is a calmness and peacefulness in gardening. It’s a proven source of good mental health awareness, and releases tension. It means I have escaped confinement from my cubicle. It’s a form of exercise that soothes and calms my mood after a hectic day at the office.


Eat the Five Color Groups

Photo Credit: Gabriel Del castilloSummer is almost here, bringing an abundance of colorful fruits and veggies to your local grocery store and farmer’s market.  The USDA recommends eating a variety of fruits and vegetables; variety usually refers to the types of fruits and veggies you eat, but you can also think of it as different colors.   Fruits and vegetables are good sources of a number of vitamins and minerals, as well as compounds called “phytochemicals” that can help protect against things like heart disease, high blood pressure and some cancers.  Filling your plate with a variety of colors is the best way to get a wide range of range of these nutrients in your diet.  Here’s a quick snapshot of the phytochemicals and health benefits of each color group:  

Red—The tomato’s bright red color comes from lycopene, an antioxidant that may help promote heart health and protect against some cancers (watermelon and grapefruit also good sources of lycopene).  Red fruits and veggies like raspberries, cranberries, red peppers and beets are good sources of anthocyanins, an antioxidant that may also help protect against cancer as well as maintain healthy vision. 

Orange/Yellow— Vitamin A is an important nutrient for maintaining healthy skin and eyes, and fighting infection.  Fruits and vegetables in this group get their bright color from beta-carotene, a nutrient the body uses to make Vitamin A.  Carrots are great sources of beta-carotene, as are apricots, sweet potatoes, mangos and squash. 

Green—These fruits and veggies are good sources of lutein, an antioxidant that promotes healthy vision and may help protect against cardiovascular disease.  Broccoli, kiwi, avocados and dark leafy greens like spinach and kale are good choices from this group. 

Blue/Purple—Also good sources of anthocyanins, fruits and veggies in this group may help with memory and protect against cancer.  Look for blueberries, blackberries, raisins and eggplant. 

White/Brown—Members of this color group, especially onions and garlic, contain properties that may help lower blood pressure and protect against cancer.  Some other good choices from this group include cauliflower, mushrooms and bananas.

(Post content reviewed by MGH Nutrition Department. Photo Credit: Gabriel Del castillo)