Once a staple of every backyard and small farm, from which the entire family grew their food for the year, gardening is no longer an essential staple of our lives. Despite its relegation from necessity to hobby, gardening has increasingly gained recognition for its numerous benefits on both mental and physical well-being. The act of tending to plants, nurturing them, and watching them grow has a profound impact on our overall health. Let’s explore how gardening can be a therapeutic and enjoyable hobby, offering a range of advantages that extend even well beyond the garden's borders.
1: Soak in the Sun
Gardening takes place outdoors, exposing individuals to natural sunlight. Sunlight is the primary source of vitamin D, which is essential for strong bones and overall health. Spending time in the garden helps the body absorb vitamin D, which can contribute to better physical health and immune system support (De Rui et al., 2014). Just remember, it's crucial to wear sunscreen and protect yourself from excessive sun exposure to prevent sunburn and skin damage! But, gardening offers your body more than just vitamin D. The close contact with soil can also provide benefits for the immune system. Soil contains beneficial bacteria and microorganisms that can stimulate the immune system and promote a healthier gut microbiome. This, in turn, can help prevent allergies and boost overall immune function. Researchers have even coined the term "dirt therapy" to describe the potential positive effects of gardening on the immune system. Regular contact with soil can contribute to better physical well-being (Christian, 2022).
2: Elevate your Emotions
In our fast-paced, screen-centric world, gardening offers an opportunity for mindfulness and presence. To care for plants, one must be fully engaged in the present moment, focusing on the task at hand. This mindfulness practice can help reduce the mind's chatter and anxiety levels, promoting mental clarity. Furthermore, gardening offers a tangible connection to the Earth. Digging in the soil, planting seeds, and feeling the earth's texture all serve to ground individuals in the here and now, fostering a sense of inner peace and tranquility. Gardening also fosters a connection to the changing seasons and the cyclical nature of life. Witnessing the growth and decay of plants can help individuals accept the impermanence of life, which may prompt a more positive outlook.
Multiple peer-reviewed research studies have demonstrated the benefits of gardening on mood. Gardeners and avid houseplant lovers alike experience lowered anxiety and depression, higher feelings of satisfaction, greater productivity, and higher energy levels (Hall and Knuth, 2019). The act of gardening encourages relaxation and stress reduction. The rhythm of planting, weeding, and tending to plants is meditative, helping individuals escape from the pressures of daily life. The connection with nature, the soft hum of pollinators, and the scent of blooming flowers all contribute to a soothing environment that reduces cortisol levels and promotes a sense of calm. Research supports this notion. Yang et al. (2022) found that gardening can lead to a significant improvement in depression, anxiety, daily activities, quality of life, and mindfulness. Participants in the study reported feeling more relaxed and content after gardening, a result confirmed by other studies such as the Beavers et al. (2022) study. These research findings suggest that the mere act of nurturing plants and seeing them thrive can bring a lasting sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
The release of endorphins involved in the physical exertion of gardening can also contribute to an elevated mood. More than just an outdoor activity, gardening is a holistic experience that engages both the mind and the body. This fusion of physical and mental efforts has far-reaching benefits for our overall well-being.
3: Strengthen your skeleton
Gardening is a form of low-impact exercise; the physical aspects of gardening are not to be underestimated. Engaging in this hobby can provide a full-body workout and promote better overall health. Activities such as digging, weeding, planting, and pruning engage various muscle groups. Bending, stretching, and carrying bags of soil or mulch all contribute to increased physical activity. Individuals who regularly garden have been shown to have improved strength, flexibility, and endurance, making it an excellent option for individuals seeking a less strenuous form of exercise compared to traditional workouts. A Japanese study (Soga et al., 2017)
showed that among older adults, those who participated in gardening, particularly the physical aspects (lifting/moving/planting), exhibited significantly improved muscle mass, aerobic endurance, hand dexterity, cognitive ability, and decreased waist circumference. The study extrapolated that since gardening is a form of healthy exercise, mindfulness, and socialization, it could potentially act as a form of preventative healthcare and therefore reduce strain on health care systems.
Raking, shoveling and using a wheelbarrow are excellent examples of movement in a garden. These types of activities that require you to use your entire body have greater exercise benefits. In addition, carrying water buckets and mulching are good strength-training activities. In fact, across 22 different research studies, all show positive effects of gardening on health including: depression, anxiety, cognition, stress, tension, sense of community, bone density, blood pressure, and overall life satisfaction (Soga et al., 2016).
Not only is the act of gardening shown to improve physical health, but simply being in the presence of plants can improve your health. A study from Kansas State (Park and Mattson, 2009) found that patients in hospital rooms containing plants and flowers needed fewer pain relief medications, had lower blood pressures and heart rates, lower ratings of pain, anxiety, and fatigue, and more positive feelings and higher satisfaction about their rooms when compared with patients that did not have any plants or flowers in their rooms. Additionally, in rooms containing plants and flowers, or even just rooms with a beautiful green view, patients were significantly faster in recovering and held a much better outlook on their physical health.
4: Boost your brain
Gardening is not just physically demanding; it also stimulates our cognitive skills. Planning and organizing a garden, understanding plant care, and making decisions about planting and harvesting all engage the mind. Struggling with memory? Gardening, as well as the simple aspect of keeping houseplants, has been shown to boost memory and concentration levels by up to 20% (Berman et al., 2008). Gardeners are slower in developing degenerative brain conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s compared to their non-gardening equals (Soga et al., 2017). And in schools, students in classrooms with plants, or students engaged in a gardening program, perform 10-14% better on tests than students without any plants nearby (Daly et al., 2010).
Working in an office? Keeping plants at your desk can improve productivity, lower stress levels, increase attention span, and lower blood pressure (Lohr et al., 1996)! Office plants can help employees be more creative while helping them to stay calm, engaged and motivated. Not only can having plants improve your work life, but according to the National Initiative for Consumer Horticulture, plants in the home and workplace can actually reduce employee sick time by up to 14%.
Moreover, gardening can be a valuable learning experience. It encourages individuals to explore and acquire knowledge about various plants, their growth cycles, and the ecosystem they create. This continuous learning process stimulates cognitive function and can contribute to mental agility.
5: Connect with your Community
Gardening is often seen as a solitary activity, but by engaging with fellow gardeners through community gardens, Master Gardener groups, food bank gardens, and more, individuals can also foster connections with others and promote social well-being. Community gardens are becoming increasingly popular in urban areas. These shared spaces bring people together, creating a sense of community and belonging. Many of these gardens are also food bank gardens, where all the produce generated from the garden is donated to people in need. These community hubs offer an opportunity for individuals to connect, learn from each other, share resources, and exchange gardening tips, making it a rich source of social interaction and support. During the pandemic, gardens were increasingly seen as a safe way to engage with others in a safe, outdoor setting, while also helping alleviate social stress and anxiety. Interacting with fellow gardeners can be a source of comfort and support. The garden becomes a space for shared stories, laughter, and empathy, making it a therapeutic environment for mental well-being.
Let Us Help
Gardening can be a rewarding and mindful experience for participants of all ages, sizes, and mobility levels. Plus, creating a therapeutic garden at home is both attainable and highly rewarding. At Skyterra, guests are encouraged to join us in our garden to learn more about how to add all the wonderful benefits of gardening into your life. Learn the foundations of a healthy garden, discover how to bring the benefits of nature into your lives and homes, and receive personalized guidance on both growing and utilizing your garden produce to concoct delicious seasonal recipes.
Whether you’re 6 or 96, gardens are a wonderful way to breathe in fresh air and sunshine, grow delicious produce, and observe nature in action. To build a garden with accessibility in mind, consider raised beds or containers to reduce bending and kneeling. Long handled gardening tools can make tending your garden less strenuous. Select plants that suit your space, climate and personal preferences. Try incorporating fragrant herbs and colorful flowers to engage your senses, and draw important pollinators to your yard. If you’re looking for ideas, take a look at Skyterra's garden, thoughtfully designed with accessibility in mind, to get you started. Lastly, consider consulting with a gardening expert for guidance tailored to your specific needs and constraints.
The evidence is clear: gardening is a multifaceted and accessible hobby with a myriad of benefits for mental and physical health. From reducing stress and promoting emotional well-being, to providing exercise and improving whole body health; gardening offers a holistic approach to wellness. Moreover, its potential to foster connections within communities and contribute to a healthier environment makes it a hobby that is not only personally fulfilling but also socially and environmentally responsible.
As we all continue to grapple with health challenges and environmental concerns, the act of gardening may hold an important place in promoting well-being on an individual and global scale. Whether you're an experienced horticulturist or a novice with a windowsill herb garden, gardening can be a therapeutic and beneficial hobby that anyone can embrace for a healthier and more fulfilling life.
Remember, gardening is about the journey, not just the destination. Take pleasure in nurturing your plants and watching them grow. Happy gardening!