Linda Wasmer Andrews

Minding the Body

Five Healthy, Science-y Reasons to Go Apple Picking

Picking apples is good for brain health and psychological well-being.

Posted Sep 30, 2014

apples in basket

As psychotherapies go, it’s hard to beat an hour of apple picking. It’s a fun form of outdoor exercise that the whole family can enjoy. The apples are packed with health-promoting fiber, nutrients and phytochemicals. Plus, at the end of the hour, you get to sink your teeth into the crunchy, juicy, delicious fruit.

In addition to promoting general wellness, apple picking has specific benefits for brain health and psychological well-being. Below are five science-based reasons to fill a basket at your local orchard.

Reason 1: Motivation to Move

Picking apples gets you off the couch on the weekend. It counts toward your daily physical activity and burns calories — about the same number as walking at any easy pace. According to the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, research shows that even a short, low-intensity walk can give your mood and energy level a boost.

For example, a recent study of older adults found that greater amounts and frequencies of low-intensity walking activities were associated with having an improved quality of life and fewer depressive symptoms. To reap these benefits, of course, you’ll need to actually stroll among the trees rather than catching a wagon ride.

Reason 2: The Great Outdoors

An orchard is nature by design, much as a city park or botanical garden is. One systematic review looked at studies that compared exercise in a natural environment to indoor exercise. The studies showed that exercise in nature was associated with greater feelings of energy, revitalization, enjoyment and positive engagement as well as greater decreases in tension, depression, anger and confusion.

Reason 3: Fruitful Relationships

Apple picking brings people together, from families on a multigenerational outing to couples on a first date. Building bonds with family and friends helps enhance feelings of happiness and self-worth. By making it an annual tradition, you can also create the kind of shared memories that help define who you are as a family or couple and imbue your relationship with commitment and continuity.

Reason 4: Better Cardiovascular Health

Unhealthy cholesterol levels and atherosclerosis — fatty deposits inside arteries that can narrow and harden them over time — are not only hazardous for your heart. They can also lead to reduced blood flow to your brain and increase your risk of having a stroke. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is one of the steps recommended by the American Heart Association to help ward off such problems.

Apples may be particularly beneficial, thanks to the cardio-protective pectin and polyphenols they contain. In one study, postmenopausal women were randomly assigned to eat 75 grams per day of either dried plums or dried apples. That’s roughly equivalent to two medium-sized fresh apples. Within six months, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels had dropped by 24% in the apple-eating group.

Reason 5: Reduced Diabetes Risk

In people with diabetes, high blood glucose may damage the brain's blood vessels. People with type 2 diabetes may also have a shortage of insulin in their brains, and that could impair the functioning of neural networks, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Research led by Harvard School of Public Health researchers showed that eating apples was associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Interestingly, drinking apple and other fruit juices had the opposite effect. According to the researchers, that may be because fruit juice passes through the digestive tract more rapidly than fiber-rich fruit, leading to faster, larger changes in blood glucose and insulin levels.

A as in Absolutely Amazing Apple

An afternoon at the orchard is a reminder of how amazing an apple can be in all its whole, fresh, unadulterated glory. This reinforces your appreciation for food that has never seen a processing plant conveyor belt. The next time you’re craving a sweet snack, you might be inspired to reach for a piece of fruit instead of a candy bar. That’s reason enough to spend an hour in search of the perfect McIntosh.

Linda Wasmer Andrews is a health writer with a master’s degree in psychology. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook. Read more from her blog:
Cranberries Are a Smart Choice for Your Brain
Four Brain Benefits from the Farmers’ Market