Gardening is a fun and rewarding pastime, but it can also be much more than just a productive hobby. Making gardening a regular part of your life can bring many health and wellbeing benefits, and here are twelve of the most important.
1) Low-Impact Exercise
Gardening is an excellent form of exercise, and not only when you tackle hours of heavy digging. Just pulling weeds from your veggie beds can burn up between 200 and 400 calories per hour, making it an ideal low-impact way of staying healthy and managing your weight.
Most gardening activities won't replace a high-intensity gym workout, but get among your plants frequently and you'll soon feel the physical and fitness benefits building up.
2) Improved Heart Health
Moderate exercise such as gardening is also one of the best ways of promoting good heart health. Studies have found it can work to reduce blood pressure, while also lowering the risk of stroke in older gardeners.
3) Encourages Healthy Eating
Growing your own fruit and vegetables gives you a clearer insight into where food comes from, and this encourages a more thoughtful and healthy approach to eating. Once you've caught the gardening bug, even when you're buying from stores you'll naturally aim for fresher foods rather than processed ones.
And if you do grow your own, you won't taste anything better than organic produce picked at the ideal time and consumed within minutes or hours. Eating your five serves of veggies a day is no problem when they come straight from your own vegetable patch.
What's more, if you involve kids in growing some of their food, they'll be encouraged into exploring a wider range of tastes, and their inquisitive palates will last for life.
4) Quality Time in Fresh Air and Sunshine
In a digital society dominated by screens, gardening offers an ideal way of getting outdoors for hours at a time. As well as the simple, invigorating pleasure of breathing fresh air, sensibly enjoying the sunshine has several identified health benefits.
The human body relies on sunlight to synthesise vitamin D, which in turn is vital for a healthy nervous system, blood, bones, and lungs, while also playing many other vital roles. Although vitamin D can be found in dairy foods, red meats, and oily fish, sunlight is by far the most efficient way of raising the levels in your body.
5) Better Sleep
A straightforward benefit of time spent lightly exercising outdoors is that it leaves you feeling mentally calm and physically tired. If you often experience any difficulties falling asleep, regular gardening can be an effective remedy.
6) Immune System Boost
Vitamin D is also vital for a properly functioning immune system, strengthening it to help ward off minor coughs, colds, and other niggles. But this isn't the only way that gardening can boost your immune system.
Healthy soil is packed full of microbes, and there's evidence that contact with these harmless bacteria helps to kick the immune system into action. Research shows that children who get their hands dirty in play develop stronger immune systems and have a lower risk of asthma, eczema, and other allergies.
There's a reason children are drawn irresistibly to making a mess with mud - it's an essential part of health that the human body has evolved in line with. Without exposure to these microbes, many people believe, the immune system can drift out of balance.
7) Strong Mental Health Benefits
The vitamin D produced by exposure to sunlight is also helpful for mental health. Vitamin D deficiency is often linked with depression, so it's important to maintain healthy levels to encourage a stable mood.
What's more, soil contains bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae, which have been observed to increase serotonin production in laboratory mice. If this effect also applies to humans, contact with soil will effectively act in a similar way to many antidepressant drugs, although at a lower, more natural level.
But biology and chemistry aside, gardening also offers plenty of ways to relieve stress and improve your overall outlook. The physical work is mentally engaging, helping to distract from worries, offering a change of pace and a chance to slow down.
Gardening success also gives a sense of satisfaction, plus increased confidence and self-esteem. It helps to build meaning and an anticipation of the future, lessening the hold of day-to-day anxieties.
The mental benefits of gardening are so great that some doctors even prescribe it as a treatment for depression, but the positive effects can just as easily improve life for everyone.
8) Education and Self Improvement
The garden offers plenty of opportunity for education and self-improvement, and not just for younger gardeners. As well as teaching factual topics surrounding plants, insects, and the environment, gardening also develops creativity, problem solving, and patience.
All of these qualities can enhance life well beyond the boundaries of your garden.
9) Helps Conditions Associated with Ageing
Gardening is also therapeutic for many age-related conditions. As well as reducing the risk of stroke, it has been linked to a reduction in dementia. A study found that regular, long-term gardeners over the age of 60 were 36% less likely to develop the disease, with the number rising to 47% for those over 70.
But even without considering clinical dementia, gardening is a great way of keeping an active mind, which is known to slow down the natural loss of memory and other faculties associated with ageing.
What's more, the low-impact, repetitive form of exercise that gardening provides helps to alleviate the onset of osteoporosis by gently strengthening bones and joints.
10) Improved Motor Function
Gardening is a very hands-on activity, requiring a surprisingly varied range of actions to perform. From handling delicate seedlings to pruning tough stalks, gardening can give your hands and arms a dexterous workout, building strength and better motor control.
11) Sensory Stimulation
A garden is full of scents, colours, sounds, and textures. The sensory stimulation it provides is important for wellbeing throughout a lifetime. In youngsters, stimulating the senses is directly linked to mental development. In older people, it can help stave off dementia, or provide some respite from the condition's effects. And in the years between, sensory stimulation can keep a mind agile and creative, breaking down the boredom of repetitive daily routines.
12) Sense of Community
Lastly, gardening in solitude can be immensely relaxing, but gardening with other people can foster a stronger sense of community. Whether you garden with family or like-minded friends, it provides an extra way of connecting with people, with all the positive wellbeing effects that can bring. And you don't even need to physically garden together: simply sharing tips and war stories over a garden fence works just as well.
Of course, not everyone has the time to garden for hours every day. But all of these benefits can be enjoyed even if you only tend a few containers at the weekend. And the more you can make gardening a part of your routine, the more positive impacts it will have.