5 Reasons Gardening is Good for Your Health
If you’ve caught the gardening bug, you may know instinctively that this activity is especially good for your health. It seems that gardeners have known this for centuries – maybe even longer.
Maybe it’s in our DNA. Human beings were made to live outdoors and commune with nature as much as any wild animal. Scientific studies are showing that we can find evidence for what gardeners have always known was true. If you want to be healthy, take care of the earth!
The opposite of this is showing its ugly face in our national health crisis. Numerous documentaries have shown how our current practices are making us ill:
- We spend more than 90% of our time indoors
- 33% of US adults are obese
- We spend $148 billion annually in health care costs related to obesity. These are the highest, per capita, in the world. That amount continues to increase.
- 65% of US parents see it as a “very serious problem” that their kids don’t spend more time outdoors. They care about this as much as they care about bullying, quality of education and obesity.
- Preschoolers spend 12 hours a week outside. By the age of 16, kids are spending less than 7 hours a week outside.
In contrast, take a look at some unexpected ways nature makes an impact on your health.
How Gardening Impacts Your Health
Gardening Burns Calories
Maybe this one is a no-brainer, but it’s the number one reason you might consider taking up the spade. You have a better chance of sticking to an activity you enjoy and if you can stick to it, it will eventually make you healthier. Of course, this is along with a healthy diet.
If you are the kind to balk at the idea of putting on a pair of running shoes, why not try putting in a vegetable garden instead? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you can burn up to 330 calories during one hour of light gardening and yard work. That’s more than you would burn lifting weights for an hour!
Gardening Reduces the Risk of Heart Disease, Stroke, Osteoporosis, & Dementia
The health benefits of heavy gardening over the long term are huge, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Thirty minutes of moderate physical activity 3 times a week can prevent and control high blood pressure, thus lowering your risk of heart disease.
Gardening – especially heavy gardening – can give your body as much positive stress as a good workout. In addition, all of the bending and stretching you do, repetitively, when you garden decreases your risk of developing osteoporosis. The best prevention of osteoporosis is to maintain strong muscles. When you use them to garden, it can be as effective as a light (or heavy, depending on what kind of gardening you’re doing!) weight session.
The American Heart Association lists gardening as one of the activities most likely to help prevent stroke, along with things like swimming and jogging.
Another study, conducted in the Netherlands and reported on by CNN, showed the relationship between gardening and stress by giving two groups who had just completed a stressful event two different tasks:
- The first group was told to read for half an hour
- The second group was told to garden.
The group who had gardened reported lower levels of stress afterward than the group who had read.
Two separate studies have been done, following people in their 60s and 70s for up to 16 years. Both studies found that those who gardened regularly had a 36% and 47% lower risk of dementia than non-gardeners. This was even when a range of other health factors were taken into account.
So, if you aren’t someone who likes physical exercise for its own sake, but you find great purpose in planting a garden, take heart! And ramp up your garden for next year for your own health.
Gardening Provides Meaning
In this same vein, gardening can give you a sense of meaning when you find yourself overwhelmed by the problems of the world and unable to find your place in it.
Planting or tending plants is not a wasteful, consumer-driven activity. On the contrary, you will feel a sense of connectedness to the land and be more aware of beauty than you were before.
Author Michael Pollan writes, “It was the flower that first ushered the idea of beauty into the world the moment, long ago, when floral attraction emerged as an evolutionary strategy.”
There’s no better way to foster a sense of wonder and a feeling of abundance than to harvest the plants or enjoy the beauty of the flowers you’ve spent so much energy tending. The act of gardening can usher you into a meditative zone, like those experienced by joggers, artists, and yogis. While gardening, you are using a different part of your brain. You are training it to become fuller of joy and compassion.
Gardening Improves Your Relationships
According to an article in the Daily Mail, those who garden show “measurable increases in feelings of compassion. This is another effect of exposure to ornamental plants.
Studies have shown that people who spend more time around plants are much more likely to try and help others, and often have more advanced social relationships.
People who care for nature are more likely to care for others. They reach out to their peers and form shared bonds resulting from their common interests. Extended exposure to nature and wildlife increases people’s compassion for each other as it increases people’s compassion for the environment in which they live.
In short, being around plants can help to improve relationships between people and increase their concern and empathy toward others.
A behavioral study conducted at Rutgers University by Jeanette M. Haviland-Jones showed flowers to be a mood moderator. They have an immediate impact on happiness and long-term positive effects on mood, as well as helping individuals maintain closer bonds.
Gardening May Improve Your Immune System
“The importance of gardening and “digging deep” is written into our physiology. Evidence for what’s called the “hygiene hypotheses” is abundant.
Briefly, we know that children who are exposed to dirt in the formative years develop healthier, stronger immune systems when compared to children whose parents keep them squeaky clean. In addition, they have a lower incidence of asthma, eczema, and allergies later in life. Exposure to dirt in childhood promotes good health.
Additionally, a study has been done at the University of Colorado at Boulder, by Christopher Lowry, Ph.D., assistant professor of integrative physiology. Mice were injected with harmless bacteria found in soil called Mycobacterium Vaccae.
The study has found that the bacteria actually increase the release and metabolism of serotonin in parts of the brain that control cognitive function and mood – in a similar fashion to serotonin-boosting antidepressant drugs. If that’s not a good word for working in the dirt, I don’t know what is.
If that all doesn’t grab you, just consider that your body needs sunlight to soak up vitamin D. Vitamin D is another necessary ingredient to a good immune system. It helps your body absorb calcium, which the body uses for so much, including strong bones.
If you didn’t already love gardening for its own merits, hopefully, this article will help you find many good reasons to take up this healthy habit for the rest of your life.