Gardening provides numerous health benefits, ranging from the mild benefit of getting fresh air and sunlight to more impressive accolades like warding off dementia and depression. It’s a hobby and activity that will give back to your health for as long as you continue to do it. In addition to the value of free fruits and vegetables at your fingertips, here are seven ways gardening improves your health.
1.) Reduces Stress and Promotes Relaxation
Gardening has been well-established as a stress-reducing activity. One study physically measured cortisol (the stress hormone) levels before and after a seemingly relaxing activity: reading a book or gardening. Those who gardened not only reported more improved mood over the readers, but they also tested with lower levels of cortisol. Gardening has a unique way of relaxing us and reducing stress.
2.) Protects the Heart
Gardening protects your heart in a few ways, both direct and indirect. The movement and exercise associated with gardening directly helps strengthen your cardiovascular system, while the sunshine you get while gardening indirectly protects your heart by converting to vitamin D in the body. A recent study from 2013 looked at participants over 60 and found those who gardened regularly reduced their risk of heart attacks by a whopping 30%.
3.) Lifts Mood
Perhaps one of the best attributes of gardening is that it is primarily done outdoors. Gardening is a sensual experience, as every sense is immersed in beauty. Beautifully colored flowers and plants, smells of fresh cut grass, gritty dirt between your fingers, the sound of birds chirping, and the feeling of sun on your skin are invaluable. All of these combine to result in a rejuvenated mood and spirit.
4.) Wards off Dementia
Gardening has a profound impact on mental health that is well established in research. One study followed over 3,000 people for 16 years and found those who gardened regularly had a 42% decreased risk of dementia! The sights, smells, tastes, sounds, and touch of nature are stimulating for the brain, and as a result garden therapy is used for patients who have dementia, as gardening engages all senses of the body and mind.
5.) Combats Depression
Parents cringe when their kids come inside from digging in the backyard covered in dirt, but there’s a reason kids playing in the dirt corresponds with elated spirits and grand smiles. Dirt is fun. It’s one of our most primal forms of play, to dig in the dirt, and now we know a bit more about why. Uncontaminated soil contains a bacteria called mycobacterium vaccae, which humans have evolved with for millions of years. This bacteria has been demonstrated in studies to stimulate the production of serotonin, our feel-good neurotransmitter often associated with depression. Want to find happiness? “Dig” a little deeper!
6.) Promotes Healing
We all know gardening and simply being immersed in nature is relaxing, but evidence even suggests it can help you heal quicker. In a study done in 1974 at Texas A&M University, two groups of patients recovering from surgery in a hospital were assigned either a room with a view of a brick wall, or a room with a view of trees. Those who recovered in the room overlooking nature were discharged from the hospital sooner, had fewer complaints, and required less pain medication upon departure.
7.) Improves Immune Function
Gardening helps improve immune function on a few different levels. It works to promote the production of vitamin d in the body via sunlight, one of our most powerful immune boosters. In addition, the increased exposure to mycobacterium vaccae, the same bacteria that helps with depression, enhances our immune function by helping to populate our gut and bodies with beneficial bacteria.
Overall, gardening is one of the best activities you can do with your time. The number of physical and mental health benefits it offers are unparalleled, in addition to the value of fresh fruits and veggies grown right in your own yard. Finally, the low-impact of gardening is a great option for physical movement that can work for a wide variety of people of all ages and activity levels. Get growing!
Brendan Riley, Certified Nutrition Coach