Gardening can be a relaxing pastime. Many of us enjoy spending time outdoors, nurturing and growing something for ourselves. There are many different types of gardens, and gardening styles. From the humble vegetable patch to the exotic greenhouse, each has their own merits and rewards. However, one of the lesser known upsides of this hobby is the health benefits. It makes sense if you think about it; you’re outdoors in the fresh air and (hopefully) sunshine. You’re moving a lot, flexing, and gently exercising. But these benefits aren’t simply anecdotal. There are a number of studies that have demonstrated the health benefits of gardening.
In this article, we’ll examine some of the most notable health rewards that gardeners can experience. We’ll cover each one in detail, and suggest ways in which you can maximise these benefits. Some are purely physical, whilst others are more emotional and linked to overall wellbeing. What’s certain is that tending to your garden can help with many aspects of your life, regardless of your age or experience.
What Are the Health Benefits of Gardening?
Imagine being sat outside in your garden, perhaps on a gorgeous teak bench in the sun. If you’ve spent a lot of time tending to your lawn, flower beds, or other areas, you may feel an enormous sense of achievement and satisfaction. What’s more, all that hard work may have made you healthier and happier. Below, we’ve outlined some of the key health benefits of gardening:
You Can Increase Your Levels of Vitamin D
Vitamin D is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. It allows the body to absorb calcium, which is essential for healthy bone growth. It performs other functions too; Vitamin D deficiency is linked to a wide range of health issues, including some cancers, depression, heart disease, and weight gain. Evidently, it’s essential for our bodies to function properly. So where does gardening come into it?
A study from 2014, published on the National Institutes of Health website, demonstrated how sunlight exposure in adults helped them achieve sufficient levels of vitamin D. Therefore, outside activities such as gardening are the ideal thing for sunlight exposure. Of course, there are risks associated with too much sun, so you should always wear the necessary protection. However, if you have your sun hat and sunscreen on, you can achieve a healthy dose of sunlight which will help you get vitamin D. This can help you fend off many different illnesses and gives you a sense of wellbeing. Both you and your plants will thrive in the sunny conditions of your garden.
Gardening Can Decrease Dementia Risk
Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are terrible afflictions that can wreak havoc on people’s lives. The risk of developing these conditions increases with age. Thankfully, we now understand them better than ever before and know many of the risk factors and preventative measures. One study from 2006 looked at over 2800 men and women aged over 60. Over 16 years they examined a wide range of lifestyle factors and measured the number of participants who developed dementia. They found that daily gardening activities could reduce the risk of dementia by up to 36%. This startling number shows just how powerful and useful an activity it is.
Many organisations now recommend gardening both as a preventative measure and a therapeutic one. Gardening therapy may help Alzheimer’s patients recall pleasant long-term memories. In the face of what must be a terrifying disease, time outside tending to the plants could be incredibly calming. Of course, someone with this condition would need some supervision and a fair amount of consideration. Raised beds, a figure-of-eight-shaped garden, and a fun approach can all help.
Gardeners Can Experience Benefits to Their Mood
In recent years, science has been better equipped than ever before to understand the importance of mood. Mental health is becoming a serious issue, and there is a multitude of factors that impact it. Various studies have shown that gardeners not only have greater levels of life satisfaction but that they often have a greater self-esteem. Furthermore, gardeners are less likely to be troubled with issues such as depression. As studies into the impact of gardening on mental health increase, we will have a greater understanding of how this mechanism works.
It’s interesting to note that it’s not just ‘gardeners’ who benefit from these effects. Researchers have demonstrated that the act of gardening can itself bring about a positive change. One survey asked gardeners how they felt before and after they tended to their plots. It showed that time on the allotment, even a short amount of it, lead to a greater feeling of self-esteem and a lessened sense of tension. Although the exact mechanism for these benefits is currently unclear, there are certainly some elements of gardening that could be responsible, as we’ll see below.
It’s Good Exercise
We all know how important exercise is for our physical and mental wellbeing. Recommendations suggest that healthy adults should get around 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week. Strength training, or exercising different muscle groups, is also advised. These guidelines may seem like a lot, but it’s amazing how quickly different activities add up. Housework and gardening can both be considered to be light to moderate aerobic exercise. This means that spending even a short time in the garden every day can contribute towards your daily exercise goals.
Depending on the type and intensity of your outdoor routine, you can also work out a wide variety of muscles. If you’re lifting, bending, crouching, digging, planting, or weeding, you could be hitting just about every muscle group. Legs, arms, shoulders, back, buttocks, and abdomen muscles are all engaged in these tasks. Again, depending on the intensity you may also be getting a good stretch. This can help to keep you limber and improve core strength and balance. Regardless of your age or fitness level, enjoying your garden is an excellent way to exercise.
It Helps You Lose Weight
This is something very much tied to the point above. Being such good exercise, gardening can help you shed a few pounds. In order to lose weight in general, you must expend more calories than you consume. This means that, even with sufficient exercise, you must also have a somewhat balanced diet. Different types of gardening will burn different amounts of calories. Furthermore, it also depends on your height, weight, and metabolism. For a general guide, Iowa State University has outlined how calorie-intensive certain gardening activities can be:
- Planting shrubs. For men, this burns an average of 177 calories. In women, it’s close to around 135 calories.
- Digging a hole. Male gardeners can expect to burn an average of 197 calories, whilst their female counterparts will consume about 150.
- Weeding. For women, 156 calories on average are burned. In men, the same task burns around 157 calories.
Although these are only vague guidelines, it’s evident that a gardening session of around 30-45 minutes could soon burn a fair amount of calories. Of course, other exercises should be part of your daily routine, but if you can make up some of it whilst enjoying your patch of land, all the better.
It Can Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease
Heart disease is the number one cause of death worldwide. This has been the case for around two decades now. There is a multitude of risk factors for heart disease, with cholesterol, smoking and diabetes being some of the most common. However, weight and waist size, as well as high blood pressure, are also leading causes of heart disease. As we’ve already seen, attending to your allotment on a regular basis can help you towards your daily exercise and weight loss goals. Amazingly, it can also help to lower your blood pressure and help prevent heart attacks.
Above we mentioned the therapeutic benefits of being outside, planting, moving, and tending to your plants. By lowering stress and exercising, you’re well on your way to lowering your blood pressure. By reducing your blood pressure and waist size, you’re actively reducing your risk of heart disease. Another point to consider is if you’re growing lots of fruit and vegetables. Incorporating these into your diet can help you gain all the associated benefits and potentially lower cholesterol.
Loneliness Can Be Reduced
Social connections are important for us all. Loneliness is a problem that exists across all age ranges, but it is particularly relevant to older generations. As people retire or move away from their long-term homes, it becomes much harder to make new connections. Surprisingly, gardening can be a fairly social activity. Although at home it’s maybe hard to see how you could form new bonds with people through gardening. However, even if the activity itself doesn’t bring you company, the results certainly can. If you create a beautiful and relaxing outdoor area from your home, complete with a selection of teak benches.
In an allotment setting, the real social benefits of gardening can be seen. These places can be become their own little social hubs, with communities forming around a common goal. For elderly gardeners, in particular, an allotment or shared land can open new social avenues. You’re likely to meet like-minded people who share a common goal. This can be hugely beneficial when it comes to combating loneliness, and there are various projects aimed specifically at tackling isolation among the elderly through gardening. These projects help vulnerable people in remote communities come together over a shared love and passion, creating social ties.
Your Immune System Can Receive a Boost
Our obsession with cleanliness may be having some unwanted impacts. Anti-bacterial hand sanitizers and a fear of everything dirt-related may be affecting our immune systems. The old perceived wisdom has long suggested that a bit of dirt is good for us, particularly as we grow. This claim may not be far from the truth, as a lack of dirt and its soil-borne organisms has been linked to a higher risk of auto-immune diseases.
Although we’ve developed a fear of bacteria and microorganisms in recent decades, they are actually vitally important to our survival. There are many beneficial bacteria, such as gut flora, which are essential to our health and wellbeing. That isn’t to suggest that we should all go around eating dirt. However, time spent in the garden usually involves handling soil. Soil, by its very nature, is rich in minerals, bacteria, and microorganisms that help foster life around it. Handling this life-giving substance can expose us to a wide range of microorganisms that can help to boost our immune systems.
It Can Increase Hand Strength and Coordination
We’ve already explored the fact that aerobic exercise is one of the by-products of working outdoors. However, one of the lesser-known benefits related to this is hand strength and dexterity. Studies have demonstrated that older adults who spend time in the garden have stronger hands and a greater pinch force. These are big concerns in the elderly, and can both improve quality of life greatly. Tasks such potting and mixing soil means a lot of work with the hands, and these exercises specifically improved hand strength.
Hands can often become stiff or sore as we get older. Yet the wide range of movements and activities associated with gardening can restore some of the agility and strength that would otherwise be lost with time. It’s important not to overdo it though. Certain repetitive motions can cause inflammation or aggravate symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. By mixing up activities and movements, as well as using your hands together, you should be able to avoid these issues.
Gardening Can Improve Self-Esteem
Above, we mentioned how gardening can help combat loneliness and improve your mood. Another recent study found further mental health benefits. Research from Westminster and Essex universities found that it can also improve self-esteem. The study examined 270 gardeners and non-gardeners and asked them how they felt before and after time on their allotment. They found that as little as 30 minutes each week in the garden could help with self-esteem, as well as ease depression and calm anger.
This further emphasises the importance of social gardening areas such as allotments. Even if you’re only attending for a short time each week, you can still experience these mental health benefits. Combine this with all of the other mood and health benefits, and you can see why it’s such an important pastime.
It Helps to Reduce Climate Change
This last point is linked more to the health of the planet but is no less important than the others. Gardening can reduce your carbon footprint, help you live a more sustainable lifestyle, and help in the fight against climate change. Growing your own vegetables greatly reduces the carbon emissions associated with the transport of food. In fact, if you aim to replace 20% of your store-bought food with home-grown alternatives, you could reduce your carbon emissions by around 30kg per year.
There are many changes you can make in your garden to lessen your impact on the environment. Practices such as composting can be hugely beneficial to your garden, and reduce the need for chemical-based fertilizers. It also reduces the amount of waste that goes into landfill. You can also conserve water by collecting rainwater when it falls and using it to nurture your plants when it’s dry. All of these practices will help combat climate change in a small way. The benefits of doing so will impact generations to come, so it’s just as important as the other points we’ve mentioned in this article.
The Health Benefits of Gardening: Summary
In this article, we’ve covered a broad range of topics that demonstrate just how beneficial gardening can be. Not only is it an excellent physical activity for all ages, it has some proven mental health benefits. Spending time outside in nature gives you the opportunity to soak up some vitamin D, which itself is important for staying healthy. That outdoor interaction also means that you can experience improvements in your mood and self-esteem, whilst at the same time fighting off risk factors for dementia.
Gardening doesn’t have to be a physically demanding task. However, it can still contribute to your recommended daily levels of activity. Spending even a short time each day tending to your garden can help you lose weight, and minimise your risk of heart disease. When you’re working on your allotment or plot of land, you go through a range of body movements. This means you can exercise your entire body. Key areas for elderly gardeners, such as hand strength and dexterity, have been noted to improve.
The social benefits of gardening must also be noted. Spending time with other gardeners can help to reduce loneliness, particularly in older adults. It can be a highly responsible activity when you consider the environmental benefits that it brings. Gardening is a pastime that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. It’s relaxing, fun, and brings a wide range of health benefits.