The Health Benefits of Gardening

With spring arriving, we all hanker to get outside to enjoy the Alberta sunshine. #VegInstead hopes that this May you will take the opportunity to bask in the sun while reconnecting with the soil in your environment. 

According to the World Health Organization, good health means more than just the absence of bad health symptoms. It means the presence of positive emotions, quality of life, a sense of community as well as happiness.  (WHO 1948[1])

So consider this. Gardening can:

  • Provide you with a sense of accomplishment. After tilling, planting, nurturing and harvesting plants you might see a slightly different person in the mirror. A person who can grow things. A person who is a little more in tune with the earth.
  • Be good for your heart.  According to WebMD, ‘Activities such as gardening[2], do-it-yourself projects and housework may be as good as formal exercise when it comes to reducing the risk for heart attack and stroke.’ 
  • Melt stress away. A Dutch study[3] asked two groups of people to complete a stressful task and concluded that gardening for 30 minutes after said task resulted in lower cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone associated with stress. Feeling cooped up? Check-in with your veggies!
  • Make you happy.  There’s also a scientific reason that gardening can increase your happiness.  Studies[4] suggest that inhaling M. vaccae, a healthy bacteria that lives in soil, can increase levels of serotonin and reduce anxiety. According to Discover Magazine[5], ‘you get a dose [of M. vaccae] just by taking a walk in the wild or rooting around in the garden’ and this ‘could help elicit a jolly state of mind.’
  • Help you sleep better.  Research at the University of Pennsylvania[6] suggests that the light activity associated with gardening can help you sleep and sleep is so vital to good health, that this is a benefit difficult to ignore.
  • Improve your hand strength.  All that digging, planting, and pulling do more than produce plants. Using your hands helps to retain coordination, strength and helps keep your hands and fingers as strong as possible for as long as possible.
  • Benefit your bones and immune system. A 2014 Italian study, published on the National Institutes of Health website[7], found that exposure to sunlight helped older adults achieve  adequate serum vitamin D levels. So outdoor activities like gardening are a perfect way to get your sunshine. (But don’t forget the sunscreen to protect your skin, and sunglasses for your eyes.)
  • Decrease your risk of dementia. Researchers tracked more than 2,800 people over the age of 60 for 16 years and concluded that physical activity, particularly gardening, could reduce the incidence of dementia in future years by as much as 36%. 
  • Be a family project and/or part of a child’s curriculum study. Learning the parts of a plant, appreciation weather systems, learning what elements are needed for plants to grow can all be different components of a science class.
  • Combat loneliness.  Nothing like sharing a ‘hello’ and a few words with a stranger, all while caring for plants outside to reduce a sense of isolation and aloneness.  

[1] Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-analysis , MasashiSogaa,Kevin J.Gastonb, YuichiYamaurac,  a Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences, The University of Tokyo, 1-1-1 Yayoi, Bunkyo, Tokyo 113-8657, Japan, b Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter, Penryn, Cornwall TR10 9FE, UK, c Forestry and Forest Product Research Institute, Matsunosato 1, Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305-8687, Japan, Received 22 June 2016, Revised 10 October 2016, Accepted 6 November 2016, Available online 14 November 2016.

[2] Gardening, Housework May Help Boost Your Heart Health, Study of Swedish seniors found a reduced death risk of up to 30 percent, FROM THE WEBMD ARCHIVES, By Steven Reinberg

[3] Gardening promotes neuroendocrine and affective restoration from stress, Van Den Berg AE1, Custers MH. J Health Psychol. 2011 Jan;16(1):3-11. doi: 10.1177/1359105310365577. Epub 2010 Jun 3.

[4] Antidepressant Microbes In Soil: How Dirt Makes You Happy, Bonnie L. Grant, Regeneration International, 05/04/2016

[5] Is Dirt the New Prozac? Injections of soil bacteria produce serotonin—and happiness—in mice. Discover Magazine, June 13, 2007.

[6] Yoga, Running, Weight Lifting, and Gardening: Penn Study Maps the Types of Physical Activity Associated with Better Sleep Habits, Greg Richter, Writer, June 4, 2015, Perelman School of Medicine

[7] Vitamin D: The “sunshine” vitamin, Rathish Nair and Arun MaseehJ Pharmacol Pharmacother. 2012 Apr-Jun; 3(2): 118–126. doi: 10.4103/0976-500X.95506

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