Any gardener will tell you that there is something very special about being outside, working in the dirt to plant and weed and tend your little patch of earth. For a population who spends more and more time seated behind a desk using technology away from nature, the health benefits of gardening include working outside getting your hands dirty and enjoying the fresh air. A novel way to pass the time that just happens to be good for you too.
Gardening can ease your stress levels, keep your body limber and certainly improve your mood.
A new study suggests that doing gardening can combat stress more effectively than other leisure time activities.
After doing a stressful activity, two different groups were instructed to read indoors or work in the garden for half an hour. Afterward, the gardening group reported an improved mood compared to those who read. They also displayed lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
Experts believe that all of us have only a limited ability for the sort of directed attention called for in our 24/7, always on world, and that we’re maxing ourselves out in terms of having to pay attention so much of the time. When we’ve reached our limit, we get irritable, make mistakes, are distracted and over stressed.
The good news? The effect can be reversed with a form of effortless attention that comes from being outdoors, enjoying nature.
The rhythm of nature and the repetitive nature of many of the tasks involved in gardening are all examples of effortless attention.
Gardening helps improve your mood.
A Norwegian study on those with depression, a lingering low mood or bipolar disorder involved subjects spending 6 hours per week tending vegetables and flowers.
At the three-month mark, half of the subjects had noticed a measurable improvement in their symptoms of depression. And their mood continued improve for three months once the program ended. Perhaps it was the novelty of a new experience that helped, or perhaps it was something in the soil itself that might be responsible.
Pursuing this idea, researchers have been injecting mice with a harmless bacteria that’s found in soil known as Mycobacterium vaccae. This appears to up the release and use of serotonin in the part of the brain responsible for thinking and mood. This is the same mechanism impacted by serotonin boosting antidepressant medications in wide use today.
So, should we all toss our pills and get our hands dirty instead?
Experts aren’t advocating that, but rather suggesting that until now, we’ve spent lots of time with M. vaccae along with lots of other friendly microorganisms, and maybe the lack of these long standing companions has impacted our bodies in ways we’ve yet to understand.
Gardening does get you up and outside… in the open air. The needs of the garden call for a variety of different movements, bending, digging, weeding and other repetitive activities are a great way to include some low impact exercise into your life, especially good for those who are unable to do more vigorous workouts. What’s more, when the gardening’s done, not only have you exercised, but you surroundings look wonderful too.
This makes gardening a workout that people may be more likely to keep up and do on a regular basis. Rather than being exercise for exercise sake, gardening has a purpose and a visible, tangible goal that you can see right away. Hard to beat.
Gardening encourages good nutrition. If you’re a vegetable grower, you have the peace of mind knowing that the food you’ve grown and put on your table is the freshest you can get. Not to mention being super healthy and absolutely delicious.
A few studies have concluded that those who garden eat increased amounts of fruits and veggies than those who don’t. Studies of children show that kids who work in the garden are also more likely to include good foods like fruits and veggies in their diets, and are more adventurous when it comes to trying new foods.
Gardening is good for the brain too. There’s some evidence that the activity called for in gardening can help bring down the risk of dementia. Two different studies that examined subjects between 60 and 79 for a period of up to 16 years discovered that those who worked in the garden on a regular basis had up to a 47% reduced risk of dementia compared to those who didn’t garden. This drop held even after accounting for a number of additional health factors.
While more work needs to be done; these findings suggest that working outside in the garden brings both physical and mental activity that could have a positive impact on the mind.
You don’t need a big garden or tons of experience and special tools to get your own health benefits of gardening. You can start with some houseplants or container gardening. While there’s lots of guidance on the Internet and in the bookstores, some of the best advice you’ll find, especially for the beginner, comes from other gardeners. Visit local garden clubs, your community garden, or a local farm stand or nursery – these are the haunts of gardeners everywhere who will be happy to share what they’ve learned with you.