Discover the impacts of nature and gardening on health and well-being.
I don't know about you, but I just love getting in the garden. The combination of fresh air, sun on my skin, and digging in the dirt feels delightful. It instantly can zap away stress and anxiety, and it feels like a boost of energy. The scientist in me just had to figure out why. Here's what I discovered:
The Link Between Gardening and Well-Being
Recent studies suggest that daily contact with nature has a long-lasting and deep impact on health, including on depression and anxiety symptoms. We've been hearing more about things like forest bathing, and using nature walks to increase well-being. Gardening is arguably one of the most common ways of interacting with nature and indeed is enjoyed as a popular pastime in many countries. But I rarely hear about the benefits of gardening for well-being.
Although there doesn't seem to be a ton of research in this area, some previous studies have shown that gardening can increase people's life satisfaction, vigor, psychological well-being, sense of community, and cognitive function. Reductions in stress, anger, fatigue, and depression and anxiety symptoms have also been documented. So indeed, gardening appears to boost well-being.
These studies showed that even short-time (several hours) exercise in gardens can provide an instantaneous beneficial influence on health (e.g. reductions in depression and anxiety symptoms), although it is unknown how long the positive outcomes last after gardening.
So what might we do to boost our well-being in the garden? Here are a few ideas:
1. Use gardening as a meditation
Getting your hands dirty, weeding, and planting can feel calming, almost like a meditation. Plus it puts you in contact with soil (which is good for your microbiome), boosts your levels of vitamin D (from the sun), and exposes you to fresh air.
2. Garden in an orchard
Getting in nature and under trees can lower cortisol (the stress hormone), lower blood pressure, and boost parasympathetic activity (the rest and digest system). So give an orchard garden a try to get these benefits.
3. Bring a garden indoors
Indoor plants can help reduce nervousness, anxiety, and tension. So start a garden indoors; it might boost your well-being.
4. Join or start your own community garden
Community gardens not only provide fresh food uncontaminated by plastic or other chemicals—they can help reduce feelings of depression. Whether it's through the act of gardening, the social support of the community, or just getting outside, community gardens are a great plant-driven tool to boost well-being.
In sum, it seems that the natural world has many benefits on our health and can restore our cognitive function and well-being. So gardening may just be another strategy you can add to your health and happiness toolkit.
Ohly, H., Gentry, S., Wigglesworth, R., Bethel, A., Lovell, R., & Garside, R. (2016). A systematic review of the health and well-being impacts of school gardening: synthesis of quantitative and qualitative evidence. BMC Public Health, 16(1), 286.
Scott, T. L., Masser, B. M., & Pachana, N. A. (2015). Exploring the health and wellbeing benefits of gardening for older adults. Ageing & Society, 35(10), 2176-2200.