Around the world, gardening ranks high on the list of favorite hobbies. Growing fresh fruits and vegetables makes beneficial nutrition easily accessible. Numerous studies also show that people experience life-enhancing effects beyond good food when they interact with nature. Gardening is a cost-effective and rewarding way to reap Mother Nature’s benefits.
Studies show that gardening not only strengthens the muscles, but also improves muscle coordination. Tilling and planting require repetitive grasping, releasing, and flexion of the thumb and forefinger, which train the unused muscles in the hand and enhance overall hand function. An Australian study found that gardening was more physically beneficial than walking. People who garden regularly experience increased strength, balance, and dexterity.
Mental Health Benefits
Horticultural therapy has become a popular intervention for a variety of mental health issues. Studies show gardening improves depression and anxiety symptoms and decreases fatigue and anger issues. Researchers say that gardening also enhances an individual’s life satisfaction, by increasing cognitive function, enthusiasm, and self-esteem.
Because gardening requires focus on repetitive tasks, it can serve as a type of distraction therapy to deal with chronic pain. Researchers reported that gardening allowed study participants to change their thought patterns on how they perceived their pain, which led to a reduction in the amount of medication they required to find relief.
Cortisol is the human body’s stress hormone, fueling the “flight or fight” instinct. Once a perceived threat goes away, cortisol levels should even out. If they remain elevated, a person continues to feel stressed. Researchers measured cortisol levels for two participant groups: a gardening group and a reading group. They found that while both activities reduced cortisol levels, the gardening group showed significantly higher decreases than the reading group.
Contributes to Emotional Well-Being
Of the top 15 leisure activities, gardening ranks among the top five. A 2020 study concluded that household gardening leads to high levels of emotional well-being, similar to walking or biking. Researchers found that gardening is the only leisure activity that produces a higher level of emotional well-being for low-income and female participants than for male and medium-income participants.
Sunlight and Vitamin D Levels
According to a 2017 study, up to 97% of Canadians and 40% of Americans have insufficient levels of vitamin D. Outdoor gardening activities increase our exposure to sunlight, which increases vitamin D. Research also shows that exposing skin to sunlight for a short time may help reduce blood pressure and lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Improves Attention Span
Green outdoor activities like gardening increase concentration levels and strengthen attention spans. One study showed that ADHD symptoms in children were significantly reduced when they performed activities in green settings, like gardens. The American Society for Horticultural Science found that children who studied a garden curriculum scored higher on science achievement tests than those who studied science using traditional classroom methods.
Healthy Bacteria in the Dirt
Digging in the garden releases Mycobacterium vaccae, a type of bacteria that lives in the soil. When the gardener breathes them in, the bacteria activate neurons in the brain that release serotonin, similar to antidepressants. M. vaccae trains the immune system to ignore allergens like pollen and dog dandruff. In one study, researchers administered the bacteria to individuals with lung cancer and found that it lowered pain levels and reduced nausea.
Encourages Healthy Food Consumption
Vegetable gardening leads to more emotional well-being than gardening ornamental flowers and plants and also encourages healthier eating. People who grow their own food eat more fruits and vegetables, which are cornerstones of a healthy, well-balanced diet. Children who participated in school-based gardening projects ate around 26% more fruits and vegetables.
Home gardens are not an option in some areas due to space limitations or access. Community gardens are a popular solution for urban neighborhoods, as well as healthcare and treatment facilities. These gardens provide individuals with easier access to healthy food, while increasing their psychosocial and physical well-being and social connections.