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50+: Live Better, Longer

Gardening for Health

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WebMD Feature

Oct. 30, 2000 -- First thing every morning, Gene Gach checks the 50 or so pots of bromeliads that he keeps along one side of his house. Then he simply stands and enjoys the backyard of his modest Los Angeles home -- the wide, green lawn, the 25-foot stand of Chinese bamboo he grew from a single stalk, and many flowers and rose bushes. On most days a cluster of birds surrounds his bird feeder, along with a small rabbit, whom he is teaching to eat lettuce. Later, Gach will play an 18-hole round of golf, lunch with his wife, and then garden for up to two hours.

He loves gardening. "Days like this leave me with an incredible sense of peace and serenity," says Gach. "When I stand in my garden I can feel the seeds under the earth, everything growing, and I have a connection to all of life."

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Gach, who retired seven years ago from a career as a press agent and fund raiser, may sound like an ex-hippie just turning 55, but he's not. He is 87 years old, shows no sign of quitting anytime soon, and just wrote his autobiography. "The doctor who gave me a recent cardiac stress test couldn't believe it," says Gach. "'You're twice my age,' he told me, 'and your blood pressure is lower on the treadmill than mine is sitting down.'"

Why is Gach so spry? While it's impossible to pin down with certainty the secret of his longevity and health, some doctors would say that his environment -- specifically his connection with nature -- plays a large part. Nature holds the key to health, believes Harvard naturalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Edward O. Wilson, who coined the term biophilia (love of living things). He believes that we have an affinity for nature because we are part of nature and would prefer to look at flowers and grass rather than concrete or steel. As part of the natural world, we are connected to and restored by it.

These restorative benefits of nature, some experts now believe, can lower blood pressure, boost immune function, and reduce stress. And to reap these benefits, you don't have to live in a mansion with a gardener. All that's required is a love of flowers and a willingness to plant a few herbs or even to hang a beautiful poster depicting nature on your wall.

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