Spending regular time in the garden has undisputed health benefits. There’s an abundance of scientific evidence to back up such claims, and there are dozens of studies globally that have looked into how gardening affects your health and there’s always one conclusion: gardening is incredibly good for you. Which is why we are calling on you to celebrate your garden and green spaces this Garden Day, Sunday the 10th of May.
A recent report by The King’s Fund details the wide-ranging health benefits gained from gardens and gardening, from reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer to helping combat anxiety and stress. Gardening is food for the soul. It makes us happy, connects us with nature and offers healing in the most natural of environments. By stepping into a garden you are walking into nature’s largest medicine cabinet.
In fact, gardening is considered so beneficial in the United Kingdom (UK) it’s estimated that one in five doctors practice ‘green prescribing’, where patients partake in regular gentle activities, such as community gardening, to prevent diseases like diabetes and dementia, and tackle issues like isolation. Not-for-profit organisations like Down To Earth assist people in growing and harvesting their own fruit and vegetables on allotted patches of earth.
And it’s not just retired folk with lots of time on their well-worn hands who are benefitting from these therapeutic activities. Millennials in the UK, disturbed by an increasingly turbulent world, are finding peace amidst plants, eschewing relaxation trends like yoga and meditation and choosing instead to spend more time gardening, growing and getting their hands dirty.
This well-spent time can be extremely beneficial in a number of ways:
Gardening teaches children fine motor skills through tasks such as transplanting seedlings and tying in tomatoes.
Green finger gains
Gardening gets us off our couches and increases physical health by an average of 33%, also contributing to decreased incidence of heart disease and diabetes. Half an hour pushing a lawnmower burns 150 calories, equivalent to a moderate session in the gym.
Couples who garden together, stay together. Yes, planting partners report that they’re far more patient with each other.
The secret of gardeners’ happiness could well lie in the soil: mice show increased levels of serotonin – the ‘happiness hormone’ – when exposed to soil bacteria.
Taking thyme out
A study asked two groups of people to perform a highly stressful task. During their downtime, they asked one group to read a book and the other to perform 30 minutes of gardening. Even though both tasks lowered levels of Cortisol (the stress-inducing hormone) in the brain, gardening had a higher effect.
Research by UK economist and behavioural scientist Professor Paul Dolan also found that gardeners and florists are the happiest professionals, much happier than people in more well-paid and prestigious jobs. And The Home Ecology of Flowers, a behavioural research study conducted by Dr Nancy Etcoff of the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, uncovered two main findings:
- Flowers feed compassion
Study participants who lived with fresh-cut flowers felt an increase in feelings of compassion and kindness towards others.
- Flowers chase away anxieties, worries and the blues
Overall, people in the study felt less negative after being around flowers at home for just a few days. Participants most frequently placed flowers in their kitchens, dining rooms and living rooms, the areas where they spend most time. They reported a need to see blooms first thing in the morning. “The morning blues, it turns out, is a real phenomenon,” explains Etcoff, “with positive moods – happiness, friendliness and warmth, for example – manifesting much later in the day. Interestingly, when we placed a small bouquet of flowers into their morning routines, people perked up.”
That’s the science of it, but there are numerous other healthy reasons to get gardening:
Bless this day our daily greens
Several studies show that gardeners eat more fruits and vegetables than their peers, and that people who grow their food tend to eat, drink and generally be healthier. Greens do wonders for your health, and you can vary your daily intake by the plate, or keep up with the juicing trend and change what you pour into your glass. There’s no disputing the nutritional value of fresh food, as evidenced by what’s found in the humble kale:
- Anti-cancer properties
- 45 different antioxidant flavonoids
- Exceptional source of vitamin K
- Calcium rich
Stop and smell the roses
Gardening has been credited as a type of meditation similar to yoga or exercise forms that focus on being present. According to Clare Cooper, Professor Emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley, and one of the founders of environmental psychology: “When you are looking intensely at something, or you bend down to smell something, you bypass the analytical function of the mind. You stop obsessing and worrying, your senses are awakened, you enter the present moment, you move to ‘the zone’.”
Weeding out your inner creative
Gardening helps inspire creativity and allows individuals to express themselves in unique ways. It offers an outlet to connect with oneself, one’s dreams and one’s passions by creating a space to reflect, nurture and grow. Being creative makes for happy humans.
Therapeutic gardens are green spaces aimed at improving health and well-being, and found mainly in hospitals, healthcare facilities and hospice residences. As quiet spaces for healing through nature, they are specifically designed to meet the spiritual, psychological, physical or social needs of patients, as well as caregivers. These healing gardens, rehabilitation gardens and restorative gardens have multiple health benefits:
- Reconnecting with nature by awakening the senses
- Encouraging activity (movement or exercise)
- Providing natural distractions that reduce stress
- Lowering of blood pressure
So please, join in on Garden Day in honouring the nourishing, healing power of our green spaces.