Many of us found ourselves spending far more time at home than we’d anticipated during the past two years. Amid the global pandemic, research indicates that record numbers of people turned to gardening, cultivating their own “coronavirus victory gardens.” People have increasingly turned to gardening for several reasons: educating their kids, providing healthy food for their family amid grocery store shortages, and even keeping one’s mind occupied.
Whatever their initial motive, most people report that their wellness has improved. And what you’ve heard about the benefits of gardening isn’t exaggerated: the science tells us that digging into horticulture significantly improves people’s wellness and overall quality of life. But why?
The benefits of gardening are two-pronged. It provides exercise for the whole body in a healthy environment. And this exercise, in turn, improves mental health, helping you feel happier and think more clearly. Gardening is not only easy to get into, but it might be just the wellness habit you need to truly thrive amid the pressures of the new normal.
Gardening: The Moderate-Intensity Exercise for High-Intensity Lives
The CDC classifies gardening as a “moderate-intensity exercise.” If you’ve never gardened before, you might be surprised to hear this activity lumped in with a jog on a treadmill, but those with experience know that gardening uses every major muscle group. According to the CDC, working with a garden burns up to 330 calories in one hour, more than walking for the same duration. Just 30 minutes of this moderate-intensity exercise per day is enough to prevent or mitigate high blood pressure.
The exercise of gardening has several other benefits, too. For instance, a University of Pennsylvania study found that gardeners are more likely than the average person to get a solid seven hours of sleep per night.
Sunlight: A Vital Nutrient?
You and your plants have something in common: you both use sunlight to produce vital nutrients. Believe it or not, your skin uses light to manufacture a nutrient called Vitamin D, so gardening might be just the excuse you need to soak up some sun. Just 30 minutes in the garden produces between 8,000 and 50,000 international units (IU) of Vitamin D in your body, depending on the degree to which your clothes cover your skin.
Your body uses Vitamin D to absorb calcium and strengthen your bones and immune system. Low levels of Vitamin D, on the other hand, can lead to several ailments, including psoriasis flares, diabetes and dementia. So even if you’re in a rush to acquire the benefits of having the sun on your skin, don’t forget to apply sunscreen to minimize your risk of skin cancer.
Entering the Flow State
This era of multitasking rarely leaves time to focus on a single thing for long. Experts warn that constant multitasking weakens our mental health by depriving us of the experience of “flow state,” or deep concentration arising from a prolonged focus on a single project. Gardening helps you find this flow state, and as a result, can help improve your attention span.
The mental stimulation of horticulture is particularly beneficial to the elderly. Several studies in various parts of the world have shown that those with age-related mental issues, such as dementia, experience better memory after gardening as little as 20 minutes per day.
A Calm, Green Environment
Charlie Hall, a Ph.D. at Texas A&M’s AgriLife Extension Service, says that being outside increases self-esteem, reduces anger and generally improves individuals’ mental health. Gardening has been shown to decrease depression and anxiety. The process of watching your hard work blossom and grow also boosts your self-esteem because you get to see your hard work paying off.
Gardening is also beneficial for stress reduction. Gwenn Fried, manager of Horticulture Therapy at NYU Langone’s Rusk Rehabilitation, notes that people’s cortisol levels tend to decrease in calm, green environments. According to a 2011 study, gardening is more effective than reading for draining cortisol from your brain after a stressful activity. Though not a treatment for mental health issues, gardening is the perfect supplement to other psychological treatments.
The Perfect Wellness Supplement
Though gardening is not a cure for mental and physical issues, it is the perfect supplement to any wellness routine. As you get your green thumb ready for action, remember that mistakes often happen when gardening: a host of issues, from bugs to poor soil quality, may lead to disappointing results. But don’t let this stop you – in fact, gardening can teach you that mistakes are a part of life! Learning to master these mistakes will deepen your psychological roots and bring mental wellness into full bloom.