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The Surprising Health Benefits of Gardening

Garden Inspiration | Posted on March 5, 2019 at 12:01 pm by

The health benefits of gardening are nothing new – researchers like Rachel and Stephen Kaplan have been publishing papers about the positive effects of the natural world since the 1970s.

In their early work, they found exposure to nature helps to overcome mental exhaustion, makes office workers happier and healthier, enhances mental focus and lifts mood.

But what are the other health benefits of gardening – and can they be physical as well as emotional?

Child education

Start young and you could create a green-fingered horticulturalist for life. In 2010 Dorothy Blair carried out a study of US research into children’s gardening and found several educational benefits.

These include a positive impact in areas like food behaviour and in science achievement – potentially helping young people to eat a healthier diet and to understand more about where their food comes from.

Participants also reported improved behaviour in school pupils who participated in gardening activities, which hints at a surprising link between tending plants and paying more attention in class.

Lower BMI

A combination of a diet varied in home-grown fruit and vegetables plus the physical exercise of gardening could be behind a consistently lower BMI among community gardeners in Salt Lake City.

In 2013 the American Journal of Public Health published research that showed participants in community gardening schemes typically have a lower BMI than their neighbours and siblings, with a lower risk of obesity.

Fewer bad habits

Healthy eating and exercise are not the only good habits people pick up through gardening. In 2005 a team from the University of Essex listed many more in an issue of Countryside Recreation.

They noted that access to nature can help to reduce stress – and for people in urban areas, that can mean the difference between whether or not they take up smoking, excess alcohol consumption or overeating as an alternative coping mechanism.

Breaking down barriers

Community gardens can bring people together – even if they do not share a common language. In 2007, a study in Health Promotion International shed some light on the cultural diversity of gardeners in Toronto.

The researchers found that even though some community gardeners could not communicate verbally due to not sharing a common language, they overcame this using hand gestures and by exchanging food, helping to improve community cohesion.

Some participants even used their own garden as a place to grow ingredients that were not readily available in good fresh condition in local grocery stores, allowing them to cook traditional dishes and stay connected with their cultural heritage.

More socialising

A survey of garden centre customers published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology in 2007 revealed that many people do not think of their private garden as being a part of the natural environment.

However, it also found that as well as a better appreciation for nature, many people tend to their gardens in order to keep them tidy and attractive for use during social events – giving them more outdoor space to use when entertaining friends and family.

Healthy happy homes

It’s not just outside where gardens can help create happier homes. In 2012 a team from the Royal Horticultural Society and the Universities of Reading and Sheffield found they can have an impact on the interior too.

Gardens and natural lawns can help to reduce flood risk, reduce local air temperatures and act as insulation for the house against extremes of heat and cold, all helping the inhabitants to live happier and healthier lives.

Therapeutic for veterans

Gardening Leave was a scheme established in 2007 to help ex-military personnel deal with conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder by working in a communal garden.

A study of the scheme in 2009 found overwhelming support among participants and particularly good outcomes for those who suffered with PTSD.

The benefits included a sense of structure and scheduling that was missing from civilian life, as well as the sense of safety and security that came from working in an enclosed walled garden.

Less angry, less confused

You might feel safe and secure in your own garden, but can it make you feel less angry or less confused? According to research from 2007, it can.

Published in the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, the study looked at 263 participants in a variety of outdoor activities in four different UK regions.

It found that across the board, getting active outdoors significantly improves aspects of mood like anger and hostility, confusion and bewilderment, depression and dejection, and tension and anxiety – which might be a surprising level of detail for gardeners who just associate their outdoor space with feeling more calm in general.

Older for longer

Research from Taiwan in 2016 found that gardening can be linked with a longer life span in over-50s who either tend a garden, grow flowers or keep pot plants.

The study published in Clinical Interventions in Aging found a high survival rate particularly among elderly gardeners with mobility limitations, from a very large sample of over 5,000 people nationwide.

You might be surprised by this, as limited mobility could cause some people to give up gardening as a hobby, but the evidence is there to show that keeping it up literally adds years to your life – so how can you keep gardening in old age?

Keeping OAPs active

Back in the UK in 2004, a study in Social Science & Medicine looked at gardeners from the north of England and found that community gardens and shared allotments help older people to benefit from gardening even as their mobility decreases.

Researchers explained that decreasing mobility can make it harder for elderly gardeners to carry out certain tasks, but with support from younger gardeners in their community, they can still continue to successfully tend an allotment or other outdoor space and receive the health benefits and therapeutic effects of doing so.

With an ageing population worldwide and especially in the UK, gardening with support is an excellent way to make sure elderly people leave the house – even if only as far as the garden – and get the same physical and mental boost as their younger green-fingered counterparts.

If you have been inspired to get out into the garden and would like to improve the quality of your lawn, take a look at some of the guides in our blog on how you can get started. If your lawn is beyond saving, then maybe it’s time to let Carbutts Turf provide you with a lush new one!