By Mike Lorenc, Conservation Garden Park
There are many reasons why gardening often tops the list of America’s favorite hobbies: flowers will brighten anyone’s day and there are no fresher vegetables than the ones growing in your own backyard. But science over the last 30 years has confirmed what common sense has been telling us all along: gardening is good for our health.
Maybe it’s that feeling of accomplishment when the flower bed you planted blooms. Or perhaps it’s choosing those specific vegetables seeds, tending to them and finally serving them as part of a meal to loved ones. Gardening is rewarding in way that can be difficult to put into words. But along with all the intangible benefits, science is demonstrating that gardening is just plain good for us.
Studies consistently show a strong association between participating in outdoor activities–such as gardening–and better overall health. Spending even small amounts of time working in the garden has many benefits: stress reduction, lower blood pressure, stronger physical condition, improved concentration and shorter healing times.
Gardening is considered moderate cardiovascular exercise, burning roughly the same amount of calories as a focused aerobic workout. Gardening also appears to change the way the brain works and has been shown to increase concentration and memory retention while adding accuracy to task performance. Studies have also shown that school children who spent time gardening during school hours saw improved ability to engage with their surroundings and an increase in focus and concentration, especially on tests.
Fresh air energizes the body and exposure to sunlight increases the levels of serotonin, a chemical in our brain that boosts mood and helps with an overall feeling of wellbeing. Exposure to sunlight also helps us sleep by increasing levels of melatonin, the chemical that regulates our natural sleep and wake cycles. Physical activity, fresh air, elevated mood and better sleep all combine to create a more stress free and healthy body.
There is also mounting evidence that gardening can reduce the time it takes to heal from injury.
Studies have shown that surgical patients who can see trees and shrubs from their window heal faster and have less post-operative complications than patients with similar conditions in the same hospital who have a view of only buildings outside their windows. One theory suggests that if gardening helps us recover faster from serious injury, then it can have a powerful healing effect on the day-to-day wear and tear we experience in our lives.
Set aside a block of time to get into the garden on a regular, if not daily basis. Bring the family out with you. Breath the fresh air, get your hands in the dirt, cut some flowers to use as a centerpiece for a meal that includes fresh veggies you’ve worked hard to grow. And make sure to leave the cell phone inside.