Those of us who garden, know that there is something very special and very healing about our hobby.
Gardeners have known that gardening has health benefits for years but sometimes find it difficult to quantify or justify it. Finally scientists are now agreeing that nature bathing, or spending time in nature is good for us and that includes time spent out in our gardens.
There are so many different ways that gardening enhances our lives and the benefits to each person will vary depending on their mental and physical health.
Digging, weeding, hoeing, sweeping and other gardening tasks are a gentle workout, forget the gym membership, get outside and start gardening. It burns calories, stretches and strengthens our muscles and joints and keeps us moving. That’s if we are not riddled with aches and pains, disabilities or just with age creeping up on us. Gardening is also good for our heart health and is said to reduce the risk of strokes.
It’s not just that gardening is a form of exercise, of course that helps keep us fitter and more supple. There is much more at play and the benefits to our mental health may be just as significant as the physical benefits.
Gardening gives us a focus, as we sow our seeds and plant our gardens we are creating a future, hope for a future and a tomorrow that gives us something to look forward to. In the depths of winter, the lure of spring approaching lifts our spirits. The very task of choosing seeds to grow in our gardens and to plan and plant in our borders is a distraction, a daydream and a way to fulfill our hopes and dreams.
It’s a form of mindfulness or mediation as we focus our attention to the task in hand. By concentrating on what we are doing we escape from the chaos inside our minds and join a different realm where each moment is devoured and savoured slowly, like a breath mediation or a mindfulness exercise.
Breathing the fresh air and blowing the cobwebs away from a period stuck indoors is an uplifting experience. Even a short walk outside can have a similar effect. Exposure to the sun while out in our gardens and in nature creates vitamin D in our bodies, the sunshine vitamin is important for our wellbeing and helps deter and lessen the affects of Seasonal Affected Disorder, known as SAD.
Working with the soil exposes our immune systems to a variety of microbes that help strengthen it. While it’s important to wear gloves and protect broken skin and wounds from contaminants, it’s also important to have a connection to the earth. But there is even more evidence (from studies at Bristol University) that a ‘friendly bacteria’ (Mycobacterium vaccae) found in the soil could be beneficial to our mental health. It has been used to treat cancer patients who reported improvements in their quality of life and it is thought that it helps in the creation of a feel good hormone serotonin. This bacterium is present in the soil and gardeners and in fact anyone out in nature may be breathing it in.
Growing our own food and flowers for the home has a satisfying effect on our lives. Being self-sufficient is a very gratifying feeling, even if you start small by growing a few herbs for your menus. If you can produce fresh food for the family throughout the year you save not just the money you would buy them for, but what you grow is fresh, homegrown and you are in control of what you use on your food crops. From fertilisers and feed to pest control, by choosing organic or harnessing the power of nature instead you can make your homegrown produce free from chemicals and pesticides and better for your health. Plus it’s fresh, grown in soil and full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
Gone are the days when gardening was a second rate career, or a topic of ridicule. These days horticulture is not only on-trend but it is even being prescribed by GPs for some of their patients. If you are not already hooked, then give it a try. Take small steps and venture outside to explore the bounty of your garden.