Studies show that gardening can work magic on both the mind and body. 

By Kristina McGuirk
January 11, 2021
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Gardens do more than add fabulous curb appeal and grow your DIY skills. Gardening can improves your health, too, by exposing you to environments and activities that help your mind and body function better. Studies around the world have directly linked the impacts of gardening to better quality life in both urban and rural settings, with benefits for everyone from children to seniors. 

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1. Gardening Relieves Stress

A Dutch study tested cortisol, a natural steroid that helps your body respond to stress, and found that gardening after a stressful event offered greater stress relief than reading. (Don't worry, the study found that reading still decreases stress, too!) Home gardeners report that psychological benefits like stress relief are more important to them than cultural ties or economic benefits of gardening, regardless of the type or amount of gardening activities they do. It's not just the act of gardening; bacteria in soil may also help combat stress. The same bacteria have been noted to act like an antidepressant and establish a strong immune system as well. 

2. Gardening Counts as Exercise

Activities like carrying planters, digging holes, stretching to reach weeds, and pushing the mower can collectively engage every muscle in your body. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention categorizes gardening as moderate physical activity, and notes that it can burn more than 300 calories an hour, about the same as golfing while walking and carrying clubs. More substantial yard work, like chopping wood or hauling heavy mulch bags, burns more than 400 calories. One study suggests gardening may help offset age-related weight gain. There are other tangible physical benefits, too, like enhancing dexterity and hand strength. Plus, after all that garden work, you're likely to sleep better.

3. Gardening Hinders Dementia

It's not just a physical workout, gardening is also good for your brain, especially as protection against the onset of dementia. Gardening boosts cognitive function, and one study found it could lead to a 36% lower risk of dementia.

4. Gardening Helps Fight Chronic Conditions Like Heart Disease and Diabetes

You know plants need sunlight, but did you know your body does, too? Like other outdoor leisure activities, gardening can provide a one-two punch of healthy exercise and sun exposure. A moderate amount of time in the sun is the most effective way to get vitamin D, which influences over 1,000 different genes and nearly every tissue in your body and impacts everything from metabolism to your immune system. Vitamin D is linked to positive effects on type 2 diabetes, heart disease, bone health, and depression. Your gut may feel the benefits, too, because vitamin D is believed to help regulate gastrointestinal distress. Of course, it's important to remember to take precautions to safely spend time in the sun.

5. Gardening Connects People

Gardening connects people with a broader community and combats the negative health impacts of loneliness. This may simply mean interacting with individuals at a local gardening center before digging into a home garden, or sharing gardening tips and successes with an online community. Gardening has more direct benefits in spaces like community gardens, where social bonds and support networks can form. This can be extra impactful in urban settings, where many residents may suffer from isolation and lack of social support. One study found gardening provided opportunity for enhanced interracial interaction in these environments as well. 

6. Gardening Improves Your Mood and Self-Esteem

Simply being in nature is good for your wellbeing, and the effects of engaging with it include documented mood boosters. Gardening increases positivity and optimism, and has been linked to fighting depression and other mental illnesses. With all these good vibes, it's not surprising that spending time in the dirt leads to higher self-esteem for adults and children with behavioral problems. A study of the emotional well being associated with common daily activities, like walking, shopping, and dining out, found that gardening consistently ranked in the top-five activities for providing happiness and meaningfulness. The same study showed the most positive effects were felt by women and lower income participants.

Credit: Cameron Sadeghpour

7. Gardening Helps You Eat a Healthier Diet

It's not always easy making healthy food choices, but gardening may help. Growers of fruits, vegetables, and herbs have the additional benefit of easy access to nutritious food options (and allow you to control what pesticides or fertilizers are used.) Plus, people who grow vegetables are more likely to eat them. One study found that children are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables when they are homegrown, while another study identified increases in food literacy associated with youth gardening. In addition to nutritional benefits, vegetable gardeners, in particular, reported greater positive emotional impacts than those engaged in other types of at-home gardening.

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