Gardening for Health- the magical health benefits explained.
My mother will be proud of me. Lockdown 1 finally converted me to gardening and it tuned out that I loved it!
Gardening for Health
It’s currently UK National “Growing for Wellbeing” Week so I thought I’d review the research into why we should all be growing and gardening for our physical and mental health. The magical health benefits of spending time in a green space, tending to plants, general gardening and just spending time with nature are being recognised as an important contributor to overall good health.
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It’s hard isn’t it with our busy lives to find time for another activity. Weeding is not an attractive activity, especially when your garden starts to look like a jungle. And I’ll confess I don’t like the wet and cold so it’s the last place I really want to be in less than warm months.
In times gone by…
Historically we were closely connected to the garden and earth as it was our source of food. It was also (and still is) a source of natural remedies for common symptoms and ailments long before modern medicine created powerful drugs. Herbs and spices have incredible healing properties that we tend to overlook.
Before the onset of the digital age, children spent all their time outside and playing in the mud. I grew up spending my free time with other local children in and out of each other’s gardens and making dens by the river (another age to now I know).
But why is it so beneficial to our health and how can we all incorporate some “green time” into our busy lives?
One of the biggest impacts to health is that it helps to lower cortisol. A Scottish study showed that less access to green space was linked to higher cortisol levels.
Cortisol is the main stress marker and probably has the biggest impact across all the health benefits I describe below. Cortisol, particularly chronically high levels of cortisol, has a profound impact across many aspects of health from obesity, cardiovascular risk, T2D risk, mental clarity and sleep.
Studies have shown that gardening leads to a lower risk of heart disease, cancer and obesity and lower BMI scores.
1 in 4 people in the UK experience mental ill health each year and this past year has certainly seen mental health tested to its limits! Yet gardening leads to better mental health scores due to its peaceful and meditative qualities. It helps to lower levels of depression and anxiety. It helps to improve sleep both in quantity and quality of sleep
One aspect that really interests me is that contact with soil and its microbes has a positive effect on the human microbiome especially the gut.
Growing vegetables and fruit (and herbs) encourages a higher intake, greater diversity and an overall increase in fibre. It certainly has a positive impact on children when they nurture plants and see the end results of their efforts.
A study in the Netherlands showed that for every 10% increase in exposure to green space translated to health profiles being 5 years younger.
A report by The Kings Fund explains some of the benefits and recommendations to improve healthcare in the UK:
How is cortisol reduced through gardening?
The therapeutic aspects of being in nature together with the focus on growing, weeding, planting helps to switch the body from its stress “fight or flight mode into its parasympathetic rest and digest mode. We spend far too much time in stress mode.
Being at one with nature; being in the fresh air; sunshine and increasing levels of vitamin D; being grounded when surrounded by plants; hearing and seeing birds.
It provides important time away from gadgets, TV, radio, papers and the news. And most importantly it provides time away from noise (actual and in our heads) to really switch off from the stress of our modern lives
No access to a garden?
There are still ways you can tap into the positive aspects of gardening. Grow herbs on a window sill. If you have a small balcony or patio, grow some vegetables like sweet potatoes or tomatoes in a few planters. Consider joining friends or neighbours to start an allotment. But whatever you can or can’t do from a “growing” perspective, do try and find some green space to visit as much as possible. Your mental and physical wellbeing will thank you for it.
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