Many gardeners view their hobby as the perfect antidote to the modern world, a way of reclaiming some of the intangible things we’ve lost in our busy, dirt-free lives. In addition to being a source of fresh, healthy produce, gardening can ease stress, keep you limber, and even improve your mood. Here are just a few of the ways gardening can benefit your physical and mental health, according to Health.com, and how you can start harvesting those benefits for you and your family.
A recent study in the Netherlands suggests gardening can fight stress even better than other relaxing leisure activities. After completing a stressful task, two groups of people were instructed to either read indoors or garden for 30 minutes. Afterward, the group that gardened reported being in a better mood than the reading group, and they also had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Better Mental Health
The effortless attention of gardening may even help improve depression symptoms. In a study conducted in Norway, people who had been diagnosed with depression, persistent low mood, or “bipolar II disorder” spent six hours a week growing flowers and vegetables. After three months, half of the participants had experienced a measurable improvement in their depression symptoms. What’s more, their mood continued to be better three months after the gardening program ended.
Gardening gets you out in the fresh air and sunshine, and it also gets your blood moving. Digging, planting, weeding, and other repetitive tasks that require strength or stretching are excellent forms of low-impact exercise, especially for people who find more vigorous exercise a challenge, such as those who are older, have disabilities, or suffer from chronic pain.
Some research suggests that the physical activity associated with gardening can help lower the risk of developing dementia. Two separate studies that followed people in their 60s and 70s for up to 16 years found, respectively, that those who gardened regularly had a 36 percent and 47 percent lower risk of dementia than non-gardeners, even when a range of other health factors were taken into account.
The food you grow yourself is the freshest food you can eat. And because home gardens are filled with fruits and vegetables, it’s also among the healthiest food you can eat. Not surprisingly, several studies have shown that gardeners eat more fruits and vegetables than their peers.
How to Get Started
You don’t need a big backyard or a green thumb to benefit from gardening. If you have very little space or experience, you can start out with just a few houseplants, or you could even try gardening in containers. One of the best ways to get started is to meet some other gardeners, who can be found in local garden clubs and community gardens in just about any town or city.