While some people like to get their hands dirty literally, pouring their love into soil and actually growing plants, crops, or flowers, others just shy away from the whole idea completely, concluding gardening as a gross pastime that is not for them. Health experts have actually shown that gardening is good for your health. Surprised? Don’t be. Let’s take a look at some of the ways gardening actually aids us in maintaining good health.
1. Stress Relief
Gardening allows you to be more relaxed and one with all the sunshine and fresh air. It equally boosts your immune system function while enabling you to be more productive because there’s no greater measure of one’s power to create positive change in the world than to nurture a plant from a seed to a fruit-bearing plant. Studies have shown that after a day of sitting at your desk, or after a highly stressful day, getting your hands into the dirt and nurturing your garden reduces levels of cortisol, also known as the stress hormone.
2. Physical Activity
Gardening might just be all the workout you need. As a pleasurable and goal-oriented outdoor activity, gardening has another advantage because people are more likely to stick with it and do it often. It is important to note that the amount of exertion needed for gardening really depends on the size of the garden. Gardening is hardly like pumping iron. Unless you’re hauling wheelbarrows of dirt long distances daily, mowing or shoveling or pruning probably won’t do much for your cardiovascular fitness.
However, digging, planting, weeding, and other repetitive tasks that require strength or stretching are excellent forms of low-impact exercise. This could be more effective, especially for people who find more energetic exercise a challenge, like people who are older or suffering from a chronic disease. Besides, general activities in gardening also help to get your blood pumping.
Dirt contains a natural antidepressant called mycobacterium vaccae. According to research, this particular antidepressant microbe causes cytokine levels to increase, which in turns boosts the production of serotonin. People with some mental illnesses have been advised to try horticultural therapy, a garden with a combination of fruits and vegetables as well as scented and flowering plants to nourish all the senses. From visual aesthetic appeal to the refreshing scent of fresh flowers to the nutritional benefits, succeeding at gardening also fosters a sense of confidence, satisfaction, and increases self-esteem.
Once the flowers have bloomed and the fruits have been harvested, looking back on the work that went into the gardening and landscaping will provide you with an overwhelming sense of pride, confidence, and satisfaction, which helps to deal or helps patients cope with illnesses. The overall benefits, apart from the one listed above, seem to spring from a combination of physical activity, awareness of their surroundings, cognitive stimulation, and the satisfaction derived from the work. This is why different farming techniques like the hydroponics farming system is becoming more popular in many therapy centers.1
4. Healthier Food
People who grow food tend to eat healthier than those that don’t, as several studies have shown that gardeners eat more fruits and vegetables than their peers. Home gardens are likely to be filled with fresh fruits and vegetables that are organic and free of harsh chemicals, which are among the healthiest food that should be in our diets. Homegrown produce have also been reported to taste better than store-bought produce.
5. Brain Nutrition
One long-term study followed nearly 3,000 older adults for 16 years, tracking the incidence of all kinds of dementia and assessing a variety of lifestyle factors. Researchers found daily gardening to represent the single biggest risk reduction for dementia, reducing incidences by 36%. Another study estimated the risk reduction at a whopping 47%. This is because gardening involves so many of our critical functions, including learning, problem-solving, and sensory awareness, that its benefits are likely to represent a synthesis of various aspects.
6. Hand Strength and Dexterity
As people get older, agility and strength in the hands may gradually reduce and this may limit the range of activities that are possible or pleasurable for them. Gardening, however, keeps those hand muscles vigorous and agile. Remember not to overdo it, as gardening can also cause repetitive stress injuries, tendonitis, and carpal tunnel. Practice hand-healthy gardening by using a few simple warm-ups, positioning your body comfortably and ergonomically, changing tasks frequently before strain becomes evident, and also balancing tasks between both hands also helps the brain.
7. Vitamin D
Gardening gets you out in the sun, sunlight being a good source of vitamin D. Very few foods actually contain vitamin D, which is instrumental in preventing a number of chronic illnesses, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Those with low vitamin D levels may be doubling their risk of dying of heart disease, osteoporosis, and some forms of cancer.
Gardening has a lot of positive effects on us as individuals, on the environment, and on the planet as a whole. Many now consider gardening as a form of spiritual cultural quest.2 This, in part, is because gardening and tending the plants can be soothing and has great impact on our health. The good thing about it is that you can start small if the idea of gardening overwhelms you. You could start with a few pots of flowers, set time out to see to their care, and grow to love the soil.
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Featured photo credit: Rudolf Vlček via flickr.com