The Dirt on Gardening

6 surprising health benefits

The Dirt on Gardening

Relaxation, fitness, family fun, delicious food—sounds like a dream vacation at an all-inclusive resort. But believe it or not, this can all be found in a simple backyard garden. Gardening supplies a total-body workout, allows us to reap what we've sowed, and provides an opportunity to reconnect with nature and our loved ones. So grab a shovel and get out there!

A great way to spend time in nature, increase physical exercise, and promote mental health is as close as our gardens. Throw in pesticide-free fresh fruits and veggies at harvest time, filled with health-promoting antioxidants, fibre, and great taste, and we’ve got no reason not to get our hands dirty. Start digging.

Get physical

No matter our age, gardening is an excellent way to boost physical activity. It can help

  • strengthen bones, muscles, and joints
  • improve our ability to do daily activities
  • prevent falls among older adults by improving balance
  • improve mental health and outlook
  • decrease lifestyle diseases such as obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke, and some cancers
  • promote longer, healthier lives

Just 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity weekly can have a big effect on our lives. That’s where gardening comes in. Unlike many everyday activities that only involve the arms, gardening uses the whole body as we move around digging, planting, weeding, and watering. If we choose an exercise we like and that’s convenient for our lifestyle, we’re more likely to do it. And we can eat the results.

Get nutritious

If we are what we eat, growing our food can make us better. Why? Gardening allows us to choose organic fertilizers and natural pesticides. It also gives us the opportunity to harvest foods at their peak, allowing them to accumulate nutrients that might otherwise be lost when foods are picked unripe for easier shipping. Plus, when we put the effort into choosing, growing, and harvesting our own fruits and vegetables, we’re likely to eat more of them.

Get relaxed

Hectic work schedules and a constant use of electronic gadgets often allow us to tune out what’s around us. Gardening connects us to nature and the rhythm of life. By forcing us to slow down, it teaches us to live in the here and now. We may not have time to take long nature walks, but we can spend a little time in our gardens. Just viewing a garden can have positive psychological benefits.

Stress is hard on the body, causing irritability, headaches, stomach aches, and heart attacks while worsening pre-existing conditions. Nature and gardening can help. In one experiment, researchers compared outdoor gardening to indoor reading for stress relief. Gardening won hands-down by significantly reducing cortisol levels and improving mood.

Other studies of older adults indicate horticultural therapy and garden settings might lessen stress, as well as reduce pain, improve attention, decrease the need for medication, and reduce falls.

Still more studies point to the benefits of gardening to help people in a range of stressful health situations, including

  • reduction of physical pain
  • rehabilitation or recovery from surgery or other medical procedures
  • coping with physically challenging circumstances
  • learning to live with chronic conditions

Get improved mental health

A review of studies indicates the importance nature plays on our mental well-being. According to the researcher, nature is “an effective and affordable way” to help prevent mental disorders such as depression.

Several studies have also looked at gardening for dementia patients and the elderly. Results on gardening, or horticultural therapy, for people with dementia were generally positive and included better sleep patterns, well-being, and functioning.

Get smart

While gardening requires working with our hands, it also gives our brains a workout. Planning the layout of the garden, researching different plants that thrive in various climates and soils, and learning gardening techniques encourage us to think through problems, devise solutions, and be creative.

What’s good for us is also good for our kids. Studies indicate students who participate in school gardening score significantly higher on standardized science achievement tests, possibly because they’re learning in a hands-on environment that is active and engaging. Gardening, which gets kids outside, might also help with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which has been associated with lower levels of sunshine.

Get connected

Community gardens are springing up across the country. Situated in city parks, senior citizens’ residences, school properties, churches, and community and health centres, their collective aim goes further than simply growing food or flowers. The “community” idea behind them is to

  • encourage people to get out more
  • meet like-minded gardeners
  • find tips and advice
  • make new friends and foster community involvement

Along with the more obvious health benefits of exercise and growing local food, these gardens offer a social aspect that may be missing in some of our lives, whether or not we have our own little spot for gardening.

Through exchanging gardening tips or taking part in community events, community gardens provide us with a chance to interact with a wider variety of people than we might see on our day-to-day routines. Just as food is necessary for our bodies, having friends and being socially active and connected is vital for both our mental and physical health.

In addition to beautification and revitalization of local areas, other benefits include increased neighbourhood interaction, a safer place for kids, and support for community values and cohesion. Together, these can decrease violence while promoting healthier, more livable neighbourhoods.

To start or join a community garden, contact your local municipality or gardening association.

Get kids involved

Studies have shown that kids who participate in food preparation are more likely to try new and nutritious foods. The same is true of kids who get down and dirty with growing food—gardening promotes better nutrition.

Stay safe!

Gardening can be an enjoyable activity for the whole family, but the sun, heat, and unwelcome insects can cause not-so-enjoyable repercussions. Always be sure to

  • wear a hat, gloves, and sturdy shoes
  • use sunscreen
  • be prepared for mosquitoes and other insects
  • stay hydrated
  • take breaks as needed, especially when first starting out

Tips on working out while gardening

To make the most of a gardening workout, think of the garden as an outside gym.

  • Do a full range of activities, incorporating endurance, flexibility, dexterity, and strength.
  • Alternate light and heavy activities such as digging, pruning, planting, and watering.
  • Exaggerate movements to increase range of motion.
  • Switch hands and change stance to use muscles on both sides of the body.
  • Use manual rather than electric tools.
  • Plan other activities around gardening, such as walking to the garden centre for supplies.

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