With therapeutic farms, hospital gardens, and even prison gardens cropping up around the country, it’s clear that we associate gardens with healing. But where does this idea of gardens as a restorative force come from? It turns out that it’s more than a folk cure — science has shown over and over again that time in the garden provides tangible health benefits to just about anyone.
The Mental Health Benefits of Gardening
Lovers of the outdoors often cite nature’s soothing qualities as a motivator for getting outside, but can time outdoors really make that much of a difference for mental health? According to science, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”
Gardening has been shown to promote positive moods and reduce stress, even in adults coping with a particularly high-stress life event like a heart attack. Time spent in green space is known for its ability to restore mental energy and improve concentration. Tending to a garden gets people active, which in turn boosts mental, as well as physical, well-being. And these benefits are hardly all.
Gardening, especially community gardening, promotes social cohesion. Even though working in the garden can be a solitary task, gardening gives people a shared passion over which to bond. Gardeners may swap seeds, share a bounty with their neighbors, or volunteer in community gardens, all thanks to their hobby. And when gardeners work together, they enjoy an even bigger mental health boost than solo gardeners. Since social connection in the modern world can be difficult to come by, this benefit can’t be overstated. Tight-knit social networks are associated with earlier disease detection, longer life spans, and increased life satisfaction.
There’s evidence that simply being in a garden, even if you’re not working, can benefit your mental health. Spending time in a natural environment reduced the cortisol levels of senior adults when compared to peers who stayed indoors. Too much cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, can wreak havoc on moods and lead to anxiety and depression.
There are plenty of reasons why gardening is good for mental health. From the vitamin D intake and exercise to the helpful soil bacterium that promotes happiness, digging in the dirt packs a big positivity punch.
The Physical Health Benefits of Gardening
The physical benefits of gardening may seem obvious to some, but you probably don’t realize just how far-reaching they are.
Not only does working in the garden get you active, but it might be one of the best free exercises out there. Digging, planting, and pruning is repeated, short-term exercises with a wide range of motion. You’ll build muscle lifting and dig, gain flexibility weeding and planting, and build endurance during sunny afternoons spent in the garden.
People who garden tend to have a lower body mass index, greater hand strength, and better overall physical health than non-gardeners. They report less stress, a chronic issue that contributes to problems from depression to addiction and obesity. According to the hygiene hypothesis, working with soil may promote healthy immune systems.
Beyond these health benefits is the less direct, but perhaps more apparent one: Gardening improves nutrition. Caring for a vegetable garden means a supply of the freshest food possible, delivering maximum nutrition and hard-won flavor. And growing your own food helps you become more culinarily adventurous — after all, someone has to eat all that kale.
There are many reasons to garden. It’s good for the environment, it saves you money, and it’s simply a fun hobby. But if those reasons alone don’t have you tilling up the backyard, hopefully, these health perks will.
Article was written by Maria Cannon
Image via Unsplash