There are so many reasons to get gardening, but one of the biggest ones, is the benefit to your physical and mental health that gardening brings. In the time it takes to pot up your bulbs, your cortisol levels will lower resulting in an improving mood. Even better, according to a recent survey, 80 per cent of British people believe gardening had a positive impact on their overall mental health, and felt that the benefits were even better than hitting the gym. Yes, you read right….that feeling you get after a good workout? You can get that from the garden too! Gardening for as little as 10 minutes per week has a positive impact on health and reduces the risk of developing heart disease according to a research study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
The connection between people, nature, and mental well-being is rooted in history and goes back to ancient Egypt, where royals who felt mentally restless were encouraged to go for walks in their gardens. Eventually, gardening was tested as a clinical therapy during the 18th and 19th centuries. One of the founding fathers of modern psychology, Benjamin Rush, believed that getting hands-on (and hands dirty) in the garden had a healing effect on his patients, and a few decades later, greenhouses and gardens were added to rehabilitation units of hospitals who treated world war veterans.
Today, therapeutic horticulture is practised all over the world. From Italy to Singapore there are certified horticultural therapy gardens that bring the benefits of gardening for mental health to people of all ages and walks of life. It proves that getting busy with plants is like an escape valve from the pressures and stress of everyday life, but there are other important benefits you won’t want to miss out on. Here’s are 5 ways in which gardening and horticulture therapy can improve your life.
1. Stress relief
One of the main benefits of gardening for mental health is its ability to relieve stress. Researchers saw this relaxing effect when investigating bathing in green or forest bathing, the Japanese concept of walking in forested areas, similar to German Kneipp therapy.
Gardening also provides a welcome break from our increasingly tech-dominated lives. A study found there were significant differences in mood when comparing participants’ response to two tasks: working on a computer and transplanting plants. When participants were transplanting, they experienced lower stress levels than when they spent time in front of a computer. Researchers also noticed participants had lower blood pressure when transplanting, suggesting there’s a physical basis for the de-stressing effect of gardening.
2. Grounding and strengthen connections
Gardening fosters a sense of grounding, as it helps us reconnect with our roots as human beings. People who get involved in gardening often experience a deeper sense of belonging and connection with nature. This is no small feat: think about how disconnected the majority of people are from something as basic as the origin of the food they eat.
3. Staying present
Staying in the present moment through mindfulness has a long list of benefits, such as reduced rumination and stress reduction. Gardening is a way of practising mindfulness as you need to concentrate on what you're doing and you can also take time to enjoy the beauty around you. Indeed, all tasks related to gardening force us to focus on the task in hand, and in doing so we’re more likely to stay in the present and put aside our worries, even if it’s only temporarily.
4. Finding a sense of purpose
Another benefit of gardening for mental health is you can achieve a sense of worth and purpose. This happens when you get directly involved in something that is hands-on and can see the end result of your effort. There’s a sense of pride and validation in choosing the flowers that make you happy, and the pride you feel with nurturing them. In fact, studies show that gardening causes an increase in feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin, as helping plants grow stimulates our identity as nurturers.
5. Strengthens your immune system
You can strengthen your immune system by simply being exposed to natural light and to Vitamin D while you’re gardening outdoors. In turn, this helps build resistance again chronic disease. Interestingly, it's also been suggested that the dirt you end up with under your fingernails may help to boost immunity! Mycobacterium vaccae, a so-called 'friendly' soil bacteria which is common in garden dirt has been shown to alleviate symptoms of allergies, asthma and psoriasis, all of which can stem from a weakened immune system.
In fact, Mycobacterium vaccae has also been shown to reduce depression, so don't be afraid to get your hands dirty: it can be absorbed by inhalation or ingested from your vegetables.
Conclusion: gardening boosts mental health
These are only some of the many benefits of gardening for mental health. Gardening is a natural anti-depressant that can have a powerful reset effect in our minds and bodies. This is a very accessible activity that requires little investment: if you have a balcony, a window sill, or even hanging space in your home, you can start gardening and experience a boost in happiness and well-being. It’s that simple!