Our ancestors may have had to garden to survive, but these days, many of us choose gardening to thrive.
Not only is it a great way of providing yourself and your family with delicious, nutritious produce or beautiful fresh-cut flowers, but there are tremendous physical and mental benefit to be—pardon the pun—reaped.
Just the act of being outside is good for both the human body and mind. Being exposed to the sunlight and feeling like you’re part of nature lowers your levels of the stress hormone cortisol, lowers your blood pressure, and strengthens your immune system. All that vitamin D you’ll be soaking up with the sun’s rays will boost your mood, potentially reducing a dependency on anti-depressants, while also making you half as likely as someone with low levels of vitamin D to develop heart disease. People these days spend so much of their time indoors it’s actually harming their health, and someone who gets 20 minutes of outdoor activity and sunshine a day is many ways healthier than someone who spends an hour in a cave-like gym.
And gardening is also great exercise in its own right. Though it isn’t as intense a workout as running or lifting weights, it’s still a valuable form of aerobics and a good alternative for someone who can’t put too much stress on their joints. Movements like digging holes, planting seeds, weeding, or lifting bags of fertilizer increase your strength, improve flexibility, and improve your endurance.
Adults should aim to spend half an hour in the garden daily to keep in shape. And if you’re concerned that you don’t have time for that kind of commitment, consider that exercising for 30 minutes will boost your energy so much that you’ll increase your productivity in all other areas of your life throughout the day, essentially returning those minutes to you.
Gardening is also great for keeping your brain active. A long-term study that followed approximately 3,000 adults for 16 years found that daily gardening was the single biggest risk-reduction action participants could take against dementia, reducing incidence by 36%, and another Alzheimer’s study puts that number at 47%! It’s unknown why gardening has such an incredible effect on brain health and longevity, but it’s likely a mixture of things including learning, dexterity, and sensory awareness.
Gardening can also help alleviate feelings of depression, and it’s been proven that even the simple act of looking at plants, let alone touching them and raising them, can lift someone’s mood. Interestingly, the effects of growing your own food and eating organically can also help with your emotional health. A study in 2008 discovered that glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in pesticides like Roundup—depletes serotonin and dopamine levels in mammals. Those are exactly the chemicals we rely on to feel happy, and when you think about how much of the food at a grocery store has been treated with pesticides containing glyphosate, it’s no wonder that depression levels are spiking among Americans.
And if you garden using a greenhouse and heating equipment, you can grow your own food even when it’s snowing outside, meaning that you can avoid the dangerous pesticides of commercial fruits even out of season.
So true, I don’t allow myself enough time to garden and yet every time I potter about outside I find that I feel so much better (& I intensely dislike the gym!).