Is Gardening Good for Your Health?

Is Gardening Good for Your Health? Posted By:
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As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people spend much more time at home. One of the at-home activities that gained popularity was gardening. I was curious to see if there are health benefits seen from gardening—lo and behold, there is a fair amount of data on the health effects of gardening.

  1. Gardening is good for the immune system. Dirt and the microbes in it play a role in this: Mycobacterium vaccae—a friendly bacteria that is common in garden dirt and absorbed by inhalation or ingestion from produce grown in such soil—has been found to reduce symptoms of psoriasis, allergies, and asthma

    Additionally, vitamin D from the sun is beneficial for the immune system: By gardening outdoors for about 30 minutes, your body can produce between 8000 and 50,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D (depending on skin color and clothing coverage). As we know, vitamin D is essential for many, many bodily functions—most notably, strengthening your bones and your immune system. Studies have also shown that being out in the sun can help lower your risk of some cancers, such as breast cancer, colorectal cancer, bladder cancer, prostate cancer, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Of course, we do have to balance the risks and benefits, as too much sun increases our risk for skin cancer and skin aging.

  2. Gardening is considered a form of exercise. You can count raking and cutting grass as light to moderate exercise, while more strenuous activities like shoveling, digging, and chopping wood could be considered vigorous exercise. Regardless, gardening is effective for using all major muscle groups; anyone who has woken up sore after a day of yardwork is sure to know this!

    In addition to the cardiovascular and anaerobic benefits from gardening exercise, the physical exertion of working in a garden can also help manage both age-related weight gain and childhood obesity. People who exercise often report better sleep than those who do not, consequently aiding weight management efforts; gardening can be beneficial for sleep as well. According to research from the University of Pennsylvania, those who garden are more likely to get 7 hours of sleep at night than those who do not.

  3. This one surprised me: Gardening may reduce our risk for dementia. Two separate studies have found daily gardening to represent a great risk reduction factor across all types of dementia, reducing incidence by 36% to 47%. One of these studies tracked 2805 older adults for 16 years, taking multiple lifestyle factors into account; still, gardening was one of the major risk factor reducers.

  4. Gardening may also have a positive effect on our mood and stress reduction. After spending time in gardens, people report drops in feelings of anxiety and depression. This can help improve both mood and self-esteem.

    One multi-year study of depression involved a gardening intervention for 12 weeks. Researchers measured participants' mental health, including depression symptoms, throughout the study. It was found that all measures were significantly improved after the gardening intervention—lasting even for months after the conclusion of the intervention.

    Another study demonstrates the beneficial impact of gardening on mood: researchers of a Dutch study exposed participants to a stressful situation and then divided participants into a quiet reading group and a gardening group. When researchers tested the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their bodies, they found that 30 minutes of gardening resulted in better stress recovery than 30 minutes of reading. The gardening group also reported that their moods had returned to a positive state, while fewer of the members of the reading group reported such a change.

With all of these health benefits, gardening may be an easy recommendation for us to make to our patients—and even for ourselves—to improve general health and mood.

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