April 21, 2015

Gardening: It’s Good For Your Health

The benefits of gardening have always existed, from the time humans first determined that horticulture was an activity worth pursuing. Today, modern gardeners likely can provide their own personal list of the benefits they garner from digging in the dirt.

What’s different these days is the interest that researchers (of various disciplines) are taking in gardening and the resulting scientific proof of what many green thumbers have known for a long time: gardening is good for your health.

A range of studies — with children, adults, and older adults — all point to both the mental and physical benefits of getting back to nature through even the most modest of garden plots.

Gardening relieves stress Researchers in the Netherlands recently conducted an experiment in which a group of people performed a stressful task and then were either instructed to read for 30 minutes or to garden for 30 minutes. While both reading and gardening led to decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, the decreases were significantly stronger in the gardening group. The gardeners also reported being in a more positive mood after 30 minutes than did the readers.1

On a less technical level, it’s not hard to understand why gardening can relieve stress – participants are outdoors, in a natural environment, where their minds can wander over semi-repetitive tasks that don’t involve a cell phone, the computer, or rush hour traffic. Even in an urban setting, a small garden lets people get a little bit primal.

It improves mental health The temporary state of mind that gardening can produce was described in a study by researchers in Norway as “effortless attention,” and their study with individuals diagnosed as clinically depressed showed that gardening for six hours a week decreased the severity of depression symptoms in those individuals.2

It’s an exercise with a purpose Gardening generally provides mild to moderate exercise, depending on the activity (unless you’re turning the compost — that’s tough work). Your body is moving and stretching in lots of different ways, making it a good form of low impact exercise, especially for older adults or those with disabilities. Raised garden beds can lessen the strain on the back and knees, allowing people with mobility issues to dig, plant, weed, and harvest.

Working towards that harvest also makes gardening an activity that people are more likely to stick with. Unlike exercise for exercise sake, gardeners are nurturing plant life, with an anticipated payoff at season’s end – tomatoes for fresh salsa, perhaps, or a colourful bouquet of flowers for the table.

It’s good food You can’t get food any fresher than that you pick yourself. And it’s healthy food. Gardeners apparently tend to eat more fruits and vegetables than non-gardeners and kids exposed to gardening through programs in school are also more likely to.

So what are you waiting for? Spring is here. Find yourself a patch of ground and start cultivating better health.
Article provided by: Kathy Emery, Consultant, Investors Group