I’m not much of a gardener. For the most part, I plant Hostas and hope for the best. I work in an office and sit all day. I’m either engaged with people, or sitting at the computer. When I’m home, I’m most often reading or on my IPad. It can’t be good for my body or spirit. But when I’m in the garden, I notice a lift in my mood and outlook. It turns out there are quite a few psychological and medical benefits of gardening.
Gardening can ease stress and improve your mood. A study in the Netherlands found that gardening lowers the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, in comparison with a control group of people who read indoors for relaxation. A different study in Norway found that gardening helps improve depression. People who spent six hours a week growing flowers and vegetables had a measurable improvement in their depression symptoms. Their mood continued to improve for three months after the gardening program ended.
There are benefits to getting your hands dirty and being in the sun. Christopher Lowry, PhD at the University of Colorado at Boulder says that Mycobacterium, a harmless bacterium commonly found in soil, increases the release and metabolism of serotonin in the brain. This is similar to what antidepressant medications do. And the lack of certain bacteria in our environment throws our immune system out of whack which can lead to inflammation and illness. Gardening can also keep you limber and get your blood moving. Regular gardening cuts stroke and heart attack risk by up to 30% for people over 60. Exposure to the sun will increase vitamin D and reduce the risks of heart disease, osteoporosis and various cancers.
It keeps your mind sharp. The physical activity with gardening can lower the risk of developing dementia. Two studies followed people in their 60s and 70s for up to 16 years, found that those who gardened regularly had a 36% to 47% lower risk of dementia than non-gardeners. As we age, we lose dexterity and strength in our hands. Gardening keeps the hand muscles agile.
Just walking in nature may be therapeutic. Or, simply looking at nature. A study compared two groups of patients recovering after surgery. One group looked out their windows at green trees, and the other looked out their window to a brick wall. The patients who had a view of trees healed significantly faster, needed less pain medication, and had fewer complications.
A garden, as simple or as complex as it can be, provides a sense of pride and accomplishment. So get out there and reap the benefits of nature.