Why is gardening good for you? Gardening offers a range of health benefits, and putting your hands in the soil, in particular, has some unique advantages. We’ve read and heard of these health benefits of gardening, so I spent some time doing some research to find out if they were supported by scientific study. Here are some of the measurable health benefits of gardening:
Gardening For Stress Relief
Gardening can be a relaxing and meditative activity. The physical act of working with soil and plants has been shown to reduce stress levels and promote a sense of well-being. The contact with nature and the earth can have a calming effect on the mind.
A study published in the Journal of Health Psychology in 2016 found that gardening can lead to significant reductions in cortisol levels (a hormone associated with stress) and improved mood. The researchers also found that gardening can promote hormones that are affective in restoration from stress.
Physical Health Benefits of Gardening
Gardening is a physically active hobby. Tasks like digging, weeding, squatting, planting, and tending to your garden provide a low-impact form of exercise. This can help improve muscle strength, flexibility, and overall fitness.
One study showed that gardening for 30 minutes burned as many calories as playing badminton, volleyball or practicing yoga. Another study shows that gardening keeps older hands strong and flexible. It shows that older adults who garden have better hand strength and pinch force.
Common sense tells us that the low impact exercise we get by gardening is healthy, but I wanted to find at least one study to go deeper into the physical health benefits of gardening. I found several studies about gardening interventions with cancer survivors. Gardening provided significant improvements in physical strength and overall health. Researchers also found improved quality of life and sense of well-being overall.
Mental Health Benefits of Gardening
Gardening has been linked to better mental health. Spending time outdoors, engaging with nature, and nurturing plants can alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Gardening is one of the easiest ways to spend time outside. As well as fresh air and nature, gardening provides a sense of accomplishment and purpose.
Japanese researchers have been studying the health benefits of exposure to nature, such as parks, forests, or more green space near the home. Time spend in green spaces is associated with several benefits to mental health, including reducing depression.
Fresh Air and Vitamin D
Being outside in your garden exposes you to fresh air and sunlight. Sunlight is a natural source of vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for bone health and can boost your mood and promotes a healthy immune system.
I scanned a very detailed article from NIH that tells of the unique benefits of vitamin D from a healthy amount of sun exposure. Suffice it to say, it’s good for you!
Gardening Connects Us with Nature
Gardening allows you to connect with the natural world. The more you learn, the more you develop an appreciation for the environment and the cycles of life. This can lead to a deeper understanding of the ecosystem and a greater sense of responsibility for it.
There is mounting evidence that direct experience with nature offers a wide range of health benefits. This study suggests that a decrease in contact with nature results in a number of health and behavioral problems in children, which is being called a “nature-deficit disorder.”
Have you heard the Japanese term, “shinrin-yoku”? It translates to “forest bathing”. I’ve been seeing references to forest bathing more often, it’s becoming a trend. I’m essentially doing that in my garden.
Cognitive Benefits of Gardening
Gardening involves problem-solving, planning, and organization. These cognitive challenges can keep your mind active and engaged, promoting mental acuity, particularly in older adults. If you’re like me, you are a student of gardening at the “University of YouTube”. There is always something new to learn about gardening!
This Japanese study shows that gardening helps to prevent mental decline in aging.
Social Interaction Through Gardening
Gardening can be a social activity. It provides opportunities to connect with neighbors, friends, or fellow gardeners, fostering a sense of community and belonging.
The University of Colorado at Boulder has done studies and found many health benefits of gardening. One of them is the increase in social connections, which is a known health benefit.
Reduced Risk of Chronic Diseases
Regular gardening has been associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, and obesity. It can help lower blood pressure and improve overall cardiovascular health.
As studies related to the health benefits of gardening are fairly new, I couldn’t find any studies linking gardening to a decrease in disease. However, I have read that there is an increase of the so-called “lifestyle diseases,” such as heart disease, stroke, depression, diabetes, and obesity. Any of these benefits of gardening would certainly help mitigate against these diseases.
Hand in the Soil Benefits
When you put your hands in the soil, you are exposed to beneficial soil microorganisms, such as Mycobacterium vaccae, which may have mood-boosting effects. This means one health benefit of gardening is the soil itself. Contact can improve your immune system by exposing you to a variety of microbes, strengthening your body’s defenses.
This study about direct hand exposure to soil is so interesting. Researchers found that “Short-term direct contact with soil and plant material leads to an immediate increase in diversity of skin microbiata.” They mean the good kind of mincrobiota, the kind that builds immune systems.
One of the most well-known health benefits of gardening is better nutrition. If you grow your own fruits and vegetables, you have access to fresh, organic produce. This can improve your diet and overall nutrition. Eating what you’ve grown can be especially rewarding. Is home grown organic food more nutritious than industrial agriculture’s product?
This health claim is last on the list because research on this topic is full of mixed results. I personally believe it has to do with who is funding the research.
I found this article in Healthline stating that, “Several older studies have found that organic foods generally contain higher levels of antioxidants and certain micronutrients, such as vitamin C, zinc, and iron.”
Everything I’ve ever grown tastes better than what I can get at the grocery store. That’s a benefit that none of these studies mention, but it’s one of the best benefit to me!
For extra informative reading, House and Garden in the UK published this excellent article: The inextricable link between gardening and happiness.