Gardening is not just a hobby, a way of making your house look pretty, or a tool to save money on food. According to the British medical journal gardening prolongs life of over 60s by up to 30%, and provides many with a sense of achievement and a purpose. Here are 7 ways that gardening can improve your health.
- Gardening helps to reduce the stress hormone, cortisol. Studies have shown that it also helps release endorphins which increase your feelings of happiness and can trigger you to feel more relaxed. Gardening can also act as a distraction and change your focus away from what is causing you stress. Listening to the birds singing as you concentrate on your weeding or digging can give you a respite from the world’s stresses, allowing you to feel calmer.
- Gardening can strengthen your immune system and so help fight disease. A lot of people have a deficiency of vitamin D which is needed to keep your immune system strong. Gardening outside for 30 minutes a day can really help with this. Vitamin D also improves bone strength as it helps in the absorption of calcium. It is important to wear sunscreen, though, if gardening outside for long.
- Gardening helps control weight and is a good work out. According to studies, people who garden are less likely to be obese or suffer with blood pressure. Basic tasks like digging, weeding, planting, carrying buckets of compost, mowing lawns and raking leaves use all your muscle groups. People often don’t realise they are having a work out and are burning as many calories as if they had gone to the gym. The cardiovascular exercise is excellent for the heart, and gardening is classed as moderate to intense exercise and can burn up to 400 calories an hour. Studies have shown that 30 minutes of exercise a day can reduce the risk of heart attacks, diabetes, cancer and strokes.
- Gardening has been shown to help with brain function. Memory studies in Korea showed that 20 minutes of gardening improved the memory of those being treated for dementia. Other studies have shown that regular gardening also lowers your risk of developing dementia by a third. Gardening and nature keep the brain stimulated as there is always something new to learn or figure out.
- Gardening increases strength, flexibility, dexterity, and also co-ordination as it involves using fine motor skills. This can help especially those whose mobility has reduced due to age or disability. It is often used as rehabilitation for those that have suffered strokes, and it slows down the deterioration of those with degenerative conditions.
- Gardening has been proven to help with mental health. In many studies symptoms of depression have been shown to have improved, and anxiety symptoms reduced. Microbes that live naturally in the soil called Mycobacterium vaccae, boost mood when inhaled or absorbed through the skin, and so it is a good idea to garden without gloves on. Research concludes that they increase serotonin levels in the body, a hormone which is known to increase happiness. Growing vegetables and flowers from seed, and caring for them can also improve self-esteem, especially if an area has been improved, or if produce can be shared. Taking care of something can give someone a purpose, helps them feel valued, and in control. Gardening was even used by NASA to help the mental health of the astronauts when in space. It can also be a way of getting out and meeting people too, either on an allotment, or in the garden where people will often stop and talk.
- Some one who grows their own fruit and vegetables is more likely to consume their 5 a day. The food eaten is often fresher, more organic, has less pesticides, and is tastier. A person that has nurtured a plant from seed is less likely to waste the produce that they have grown, in fact a study found that households that grew their own food often ate 40% more fruit and vegetables than the average household. Children involved with the growing were more likely to try different fruit and vegetables, and eat them raw (like peas from the pod, or raspberries from the bush). Eating vegetables became a healthy habit from a young age. Growing vegetables has also been seen to influence the way house holds cook. They will eat less meat and pad out meals with extra vegetables, and eat more vegetarian meals.
As you can see, growing a vegetable and herb garden can really improve a person’s health and quality of life. It helps with mental health by reducing symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety, and also improves physical health, and so reduces the risk of diabetes, stroke and heart problems.