The Health Benefits of GardeningAli Barwani
The Health Benefits of Gardening
As we wait for the end of our second lockdown and the start of the new tiered system of coronavirus restrictions one can be forgiven for feeling gloomy.
We could all do with a bit of cheer right now.
For many people this involves bringing forward the festive celebrations, putting up the Christmas tree and dressing it with strings of winking lights. Tempting as this is, I am going to wait a bit longer. Instead I have been looking into something that has been helping to lift our spirits during both lockdowns – The health benefits of gardening.
Back in March when our horizons became limited to the boundaries of our homes, people were desperate to buy bags of compost, packets of seeds and potted plants for any available growing space they had – and it was at exactly this same time Britain’s garden centres were deemed ‘non-essential’ by the government.
At Capital Gardens, our phones never stopped ringing, and it led to us developing our popular ‘lockdown gardening packs’ that could be safely delivered to customers without any contact.
Gardening became the Nation’s most popular active hobby during the first lockdown.
Such was its importance to the Nation’s well-being during those long weeks that plant nurseries and garden centres were the earliest businesses allowed to re-open. Biosecurity Minister, Lord Gardiner said that the decision would: “bring about wider benefits to consumers, especially for physical and mental wellbeing, which gardening can bring.”
The global pandemic made millions of Brits realise that gardening is an essential activity that helps us maintain a healthy mind and body.
The importance of Garden Centres to the Nation’s health and wellbeing gained us recognition as an essential
business under the government updated guidelines for the second lockdown.
Such was the public interest generated by the government including gar-den centres among retailers providing essential goods and services during the second lockdown that Capital Gardens featured in the news. And here is the BBC radio interview with Rachel Patey at Alexandra
Palace Garden Centre (the interview starts on 35min and ends 39min).
The health benefits of gardening have recognised since antiquity. ‘Life begins the day you start a garden’ is an ancient Chinese proverb, and the Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero wrote that ‘If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need’.
As gardeners we know from our own personal experience the positive benefits of being in the garden. But did you know that there is now plenty of solid scientific research to back this up?
Sir Richard Thompson, past president of the Royal College of Physicians, has researched the masses of published scientific evidence about how exposure to plants and green spaces, and gardening in particular, is beneficial to mental and physical health. He maintains that ‘Health professionals should encourage their patients to make use of green spaces and garden where possible, and that this could reduce pressure of the NHS’.
So how can gardening helps us maintain a healthy lifestyle?
We all know being active is important in maintaining a healthy weight and a healthy heart. But how do you keep toned with the gyms still closed? Gardening is a great way to get your muscles working and your heart rate up!
Gardening offers a variety of exercise activities from sawing, lopping, digging, raking, lifting and mowing. An hour or two passes quickly in the garden. Being busy in the garden is an effective way of exercising – and all in the fresh air, and its free!
Gardening is a hands-on activity. Pulling up weeds, planting with your hands, snipping with secateurs – all helps increasing our coordination, manual dexterity and strengthens our hands.
And as a bonus – being active stimulates healthy bowel activity, improving our digestion and general health. In 2015 researchers at the University of Pennsylvania showed that people who did gardening had better sleeping patterns compared to those who didn’t do any physical activity.
Step into the light.
Working in the garden gives us a chance to interact with our neighbours. Working in the front garden allows plenty of opportunity of safe social interaction. During this year’s glorious summer weather there was the bonus of exposure to sunshine, which has been shown to lower blood pressure and allows the body to manufacture its own vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin.
Lifting the Spirt.
There is abundant research to show that gardening benefits mental health. Being in the garden allows us to relax and observe nature. Therapeutic gardens have been part of hospitals since ancient times.
Florence Nightingale wrote in her important work ‘Notes on Nursing’, that the most challenging stress for a sick patient is: “Not being able to see out of [the] window,” and that “I shall never forget the rapture of fever patients over a bunch of bright-coloured flowers.”
Putting plants into an office has been shown to improve productivity and lower blood-pressure.
The Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, or ‘Forest Bathing’, means taking in the forest atmosphere through your senses. The key to this is to relax, not
to exercise, and open ourselves up to the sensory stimulation of the woodland environment. It is possible to practice the beneficial principles of shinrin-yoku in your own garden.
A pioneering study published in 1984 in the journal ‘Science’ by the psychologist Robert Ulrich applied modern medical research methods to show that just looking at a garden can potentially speed up healing and recovery times from surgery.
Caring for the mind.
Many gardening activities are rhythmic, and this has a calming effect on our nerves, especially helpful in combating stress and anxiety. Gardening therapy has been widely used to treat patients with mental health problems.
Gardening allows us to focus quietly on a fixed task such as weeding or watering, allowing us brief freedom from our worries and concerns. Achieving these tasks is good for our self-esteem.
The mental health charity MIND found that 94% of people reported that green exercise activities (including gardening) had benefited their mental health. Being in the garden stimulates our senses in a way that exercising in a gym cannot. We are part of the natural world.
The prominent psychiatrist and psychotherapist Sue Stuart-Smith explores the therapeutic value of gardens and gardening on our mental health in her 2020 book ‘The Well-Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature’ (published by William Collins RRP £20).
Grow your own.
If you have been growing fruit and vegetables in your garden, in pots or in window boxes this year you won’t have been alone. There is nothing like the scent and sweet juice of a sun-ripened tomato picked from the vine, or the joy of unearthing your very first home-grown fresh potatoes from a planter. Harvesting your own crops means fewer food miles and gives you the freshest food you’ll ever taste. Even a small window box or tub can produce useful pickings of culinary herbs for the kitchen.
Brings families together.
Gardening can be a relaxing activity to do on your own. A chance to unwind and be undisturbed. But it also has huge value as a shared activity.Children that get involved in growing and harvesting crops are much more likely to be more active and eat more fruits and vegetables.
Introducing children to gardening at an early age has many benefits. Did you know that early exposure to soil and dirt is associated with health benefits such as strengthening the immune system and protection from developing asthma and allergies?
Studies have shown that gardening helps reduce depression and improve our mood.
One of the reasons for this is our contact with the soil. Scientists have shown that exposure to the common soil bacteria (Mycobacterium vaccae) stimulates the brain to release serotonin – the ‘feel-good’ hormone. Scientists are now investigating how soil bacteria might be used in the treatment of PTSD.
Eating home grown veg with trace amounts of garden soil appears to help us cope with stress and boosts brain function.
What can I do in December?
Are you wondering what you can do in the garden now that the weather has turned chilly?
Even if the sky is a bit cloudy, and there’s a chill in the air – put on an old coat and a warm scarf and get out in the garden and get active, and you
too can become a lean, green gardening machine! And don’t forget the reasons why Garden Centres are essential to keeping the Nation happy and healthy!
By Ali Barwani, Capital Gardens.