For those of us that work online, and are now or have been working from home, we have to actively take measures to get our vitamin D and physical activity.
A safe and mentally therapeutic way to do that is through gardening.
Gardening has been a great way to:
- Stay close to home.
- Follow any social distancing measures.
- Improve your diet.
- Satisfy those needs for the great outdoors.
Whether it be a vegetable garden, pollinator garden, herbalist garden, orchard, or just some great curb appeal, gardening improves health and well-being for the gardener as well as the others.
- Improve relationships among neighbors.
- Increase community pride.
- Serve as a catalyst for other community improvements and mobilization.
- Reduce social isolation.
- Create places for positive social interaction.
- Serve as meeting places.
Britain’s RHS Study
You may not have the time to squeeze in the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week, especially if you have to drive to the gym. With gardening, it’s just a step away and the emotional and physical benefits of this leisure activity could be just what you need.
A new study reveals a significant association between gardening more frequently and improvements in wellbeing, perceived stress and physical activity. The study from Britain’s Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) surveyed more than 6,000 people, and results indicate that those who garden every day have wellbeing scores 6.6% higher and stress levels 4.2% lower than people who don’t garden at all.
In fact, gardening every day has the same positive impact on wellbeing than undertaking regular, vigorous exercise like cycling or running.
Respondents who gardened 2-3 times a week had a 4.1% higher wellbeing score and 2.4% lower stress levels compared to people who don’t garden at all. However, gardening fewer than 3 times a month has less of a positive impact.
The report adds to a mountain of evidence showing the positive health benefits of gardening. One study from Harvard University found that calories burnt from 30 minutes of gardening is comparable to playing a social game badminton, volleyball, or practicing yoga.
Mental Health Benefits of Gardening
‘Pleasure and enjoyment’ is the reason why 6 in 10 people garden. Nearly a third say they garden for the ‘health benefits’; 1 in 5 say ‘wellbeing’ is the reason they garden, and 15% say it makes them feel calm and relaxed.
“When gardening, our brains are pleasantly distracted by nature around us. This shifts our focus away from ourselves and our stresses, thereby restoring our minds and reducing negative feelings.”
Haley Neidich, a St. Petersburg, Florida–based licensed clinical social worker, has been recommending gardening to her clients for years. It can be a powerful self-care tool, she says. “We have become so accustomed to multitasking and being totally plugged-in during our everyday lives. Gardening requires that we focus only on one thing at a time and that we are fully present in the moment,” Neidich says.
This is called the “flow” state, and it occurs during meditation or mindfulness practice. It’s when you feel engaged in what you’re doing and generally like you’re making progress (it doesn’t necessarily mean that what you’re doing is especially difficult, but it’s holding your attention and interest), according to psychological research. Gardening can put you in a flow state, Neidich says, which is generally really good for mental health and well-being.
“Gardening can also help some people process difficult emotions”, Neidich says.
It was not just able gardeners who benefited. Those with health problems stated gardening eased episodes of:
- Depression (13%)
- Boosted energy levels (12%)
- And reduced stress (16%)
Dirt Doesn’t Hurt
Playing in dirt may actually play a role in lifting depression. Live Science reported on a 2007 study that showed “Exposure to friendly soil bacteria could improve mood by boosting the immune system just as effectively as antidepressant drugs.” That friendly soil microbe is Mycobacterium vaccae.
This same microbe has another positive effect: it just may make you smarter. The Register reported in 2010 on research looking into the effect of the microbe on mice, noting that, “We found that mice that were fed live M. vaccae navigated the maze twice as fast and with less demonstrated anxiety behaviors as control mice,” though the benefits seem to be short lived, lasting only a few hours. Still, it could potentially mean you may do better after coming in from the garden, not only because you’ve burned off excess energy but also because you’ve been exposed to a little M. vaccae.
Gardening Helps with Creativity
When we garden, we cultivate more than soil. We cultivate soul.
As surely as the flowers, trees, shrubs and vegetables we plant set down their roots, we are putting down roots, too, with each new bud that blossoms and bean that fattens on the vine.
Gardening lets us dream, take risks, make mistakes and explore our creative side. A garden gives us life as much as we give it life.
Fran Sorin encourages us to play in the dirt, to connect with nature through a garden trowel and a six-pack of annuals. Whether the garden is large or small, a few containers on the deck or the whole north-40, it doesn’t matter. What matters is doing — and being. Letting loose in nature and finding yourself.
Get out there and garden!
Gardening at home or in the community can improve both your physical and mental health. When you’re stressed or tired, being outside tending to your plants may be the best medicine. Need a workout? Skip the gym and pick up a shovel. If you’re looking for fresh food, go out and pick it yourself. And don’t forget to share with your neighbors.
So, go on! Step away from the computer, put down your cellphone and take a step outside for a dose of Vitamin ‘G’. You may be surprised at how energized and refreshed you feel.