It is easy to see the health benefits of gardening. Gardening gets us outside and off the couch.
By The Conservation Committee of the Rye Garden Club
It is easy to see the health benefits of gardening. Gardening gets us outside and off the couch. It is exercise, and some elements of it, such as mowing, raking and digging, can be strenuous. And of course, the process of gardening can yield nutritious vegetables and fruits. But there is more to what is good for you about gardening. Recent studies have shown what life-long gardeners have always known: gardening is a really healthy thing to do.
The sights, sounds, and smells of a garden are a tension-reducer. A 2012 study in the Netherlands found that gardening reduced people’s stress better than other leisure activities. In the study, after completing a stressful task, people were divided into one group that read indoors and another that gardened. After 30 minutes at these activities, the group that tended the garden showed lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than the readers. The gardeners also reported better moods.
Scientists believe that humans have a finite capacity for the kind of directed- attention computers, smart phones, and other technology demand of us each day. It is beneficial to give the brain a break from this ‘attention fatigue’ by engaging in activities in which an effortless form of attention or ‘involuntary attention’ is called for. The soothing nature of many gardening tasks is a source of effortless attention.
A study in Norway had people with depression garden for six hours a week, growing flowers and vegetables. After three months, half of the group experienced a significant improvement in their state of mind, exhibiting far less depression symptoms. Even after the gardening program ended, participants reported elevated moods for three more months.
Presently, a study is under way at the University of Colorado, Boulder, indicating that a harmless bacteria commonly found in soil has been found to benefit mood and cognitive function. This mycobacterium vaccae increases the release and processing of serotonin in certain areas of the brain, boosting mood and cognition. Christopher Lowry, Ph.D., the scientist leading the study, presents the point that people evolved amongst nature and all the nitty-gritty parts of it, including the ‘good bugs’ and bacteria. Our sterile, indoor environments are actually hurting our immune systems. Getting one’s hands grubby in a garden can balance things out and reintroduce an element of nature that is good for brain function and more.
Two other studies of people in their 60s and 70s, who gardened for numerous years, found that they were at a lower risk of dementia than non-gardeners.
Scientists at Kansas State University have found that gardening can provide enough exercise to keep older adults in shape, keep older hands nimble and strong and that those who garden had better self esteem than those who don’t. Gardening may not seem like the most strenuous of demands (though some tasks are tough!) but gardening is a natural motivation system. A gardener has to stick with it to keep things alive, and the effort is rewarded.
While we may tire of an exercise regime and give it up, a garden’s needs will cycle-on and keep the gardener active, focused, and calm.