According to a new study, you can skip the gym and head right into your garden for mental and physical health benefits. The study conducted by Britain's Royal Horticultural Society found that gardening daily has the same positive impact on your wellbeing as regular, vigorous exercise. Shawna Coronado, author, gardener and anti-inflammatory wellness advocate, and Brittany Gowan, founder of Pause with Plants and wellbeing coach, share their thoughts on how and why gardening is healthy for your mind and body.
Gardening Makes Exercise Fun
Exercise increases your endurance, shapes your muscles and burns off excess fat. While most of us are content with hitting the gym to get our bodies in shape, you can get those same benefits in a garden. "By exercising outdoors in the garden or walking outdoors daily, you are also exposing yourself to the daylight spectrum," says Coronado. Exposure to sunlight makes the brain release serotonin, a hormone associated with boosting mood and it helps you feel calm and focused. "As long as you have your doctor's approval, it is a good practice to expose yourself to daylight for 20 minutes every day."
Gardening feels like effortless exercise because you are not running on the treadmill or lifting weights. Instead, you are pulling weeds, digging holes, planting vegetables and flowers and enjoying your time in the sunlight. A study conducted by Harvard University says that 30 minutes of gardening equals the same calorie burn as 30 minutes of walking, badminton or practicing yoga. But, unlike exercising indoors, Coronado says that gardening exposes your brain to plants, soil, and light—things that bring joy to your human experience.
Gardening Eases Anxiety and Stress
There's no doubt that many people took to gardening during the pandemic, and it wasn't just because they were bored. Gardening has steadily been on the rise, especially with millennials since 2017. According to a survey conducted by The National Garden Association, 18.3 million new people took up the hobby in 2020, and experienced gardeners spent an extra two hours in the garden. Part of this uptick is because many people spent more time at home during the pandemic, but many people found gardening eases their anxiety and stress.
"Gardening provides an opportunity to disconnect from the stressors of daily life and connect with the calm of nature," says Gowan. She says that rumination, a symptom of anxiety, occurs when you continue to focus on a thought or problem without completion. Unfortunately, the pandemic gave us plenty to worry about. "This cycle can be challenging to break, but gardening can help interrupt rumination," explains Gowan. "Spending time in nature and helping your garden to grow is linked to increased emotional regulation and a decline in rumination results in improved mental health through decreased symptoms of anxiety."
Gardening Eases Mild Depression
When work or life stressors become overbearing, head out to the garden. "Research over the last decade at universities from around the globe show that participation in regular outdoor exercise can often be as effective as antidepressants in treating mild depression," says Coronado. It's not just the exercise, fresh air and sunlight. Researchers from Bristol University and University College London discovered that a "friendly" bacteria commonly found in soil activated brain cells to produce serotonin.
"Gardening can increase social connection and bonds," says Gowan. Gardening with friends and family strengthens relationships while relieving depression. "Getting out in the garden as a family, planting and harvesting vegetables, and getting in touch with nature can give you a wonderful mood boost because your hands are in the soil," says Coronado. Moreover, Gowan says that gardening with someone or working on adjoining areas can build positivity in your mind. "The act of gardening and doing so with others can help to adjust your mindset from any insular self-absorption tendencies that contribute to depression," she says, "Feeling in community with others enhances your quality of life."
Gardening Helps You Practice Mindfulness
The study conducted by Britain's Royal Horticultural Society said that pleasure and enjoyment is the reason why the majority of people garden. The data in the study suggest gardening and gardens are valuable for mental restoration and 'promoting a calmness of mind.' "Gardening encourages your mind to experience what is happening in the present moment," says Gowan, "Practicing mindfulness in a garden can give you a nonjudgmental setting to become more aware and live more mindfully in daily life." Gowan also says that this increased mindful awareness while gardening can better connect you to your mind and body and support your mental health. Best of all, even if you don't have space to garden, research indicates that just viewing gardens is linked with greater wellbeing.
There are no side effects associated with gardening and you can't overdose on it. So get out there and get your hands dirty.
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Calories burned chart by activity and weight, including walking, sports, and everyday household activities. Harvard Health Publishing, 2021.
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