Annie Button has written about how gardening can improve your mental health. Read more here.
We all know that time spent in the Great Outdoors is good for us. All it takes is a nice long country walk to feel re-energised and uplifted. There’s much scientific evidence to explain the substantial benefits derived from engaging more with Nature, in terms of your physical health, mental wellbeing and even spiritual connection.
In today’s digital age, we are continually bombarded with technology, and the average screen time per person is now 6.4 hours in the UK, according to a recent report, which concludes: “Too much time in front of the screen can have adverse health effects, from weight gain and poor sleep to increased susceptibility to certain diseases. The increase in screen time goes hand in hand with sedentary behaviour, which in turn could lead to poorer physical health and wellbeing.”
Gardening is an excellent way to get hands-on experience of the natural world. Your garden is a space where you can clear your mind and reduce stress. There’s the physical work involved in activities such as digging and planting, mowing and pruning, watering and harvesting, to mention a few, which is sure to give you a full body workout. On the mental side, gardening is like a massage for your mind and your emotions!
Even if you don’t have a garden, something as simple as having a plant on the window sill can help to make you feel energised and focused. It seems that Mother Nature has much to offer for individuals who are in need of a mental boost, including those clinically diagnosed with anxiety or depression. The healing power of gardening in groups or alone has been recognised for transforming the lives of many people, young and old, suffering with bouts of stress or loneliness.
Let’s take a look at the main mental health benefits that gardening offers.
Physical Exercise to Improve Fitness
There is no doubt that gardening is an excellent way to get the body moving. Many people don’t reach the minimum guidelines for daily exercise. The NHS recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week, spread evenly over the week, or 20-30 minutes per day. The recommended guidelines for children and teenagers are 60 minutes or moderate to vigorous exercise daily.
Lack of exercise can lead to a range of physical health issues, but regular gardening can help lower the risk of getting serious illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. But it’s more than that. Physical activity in itself can improve mental wellbeing. Getting active outdoors reduces stress and mental fatigue, improves sleep and energy levels, and increases happiness and a sense of fun. Embracing gardening as a hobby rather than a chore has a significantly positive impact on mental and emotional wellness.
Healthy Eating – Healthy Lifestyle
Gardeners who grow their own fruit or vegetables, whether at home or in an allotment, have a particular advantage in that they have ready access to organically produced crops. Surely, there can be no better feeling than eating meals prepared from freshly picked home grown produce that are superior to shop bought veg in terms of both taste and nutritional value.
Not only does this encourage eating a healthy diet and all the health benefits this brings, it also leads to a greater understanding of sustainable agricultural practices, as well as an appreciation of locally produced natural foods. You know how much hard work went into growing your own potatoes, runner beans or strawberries – so they taste all the better for it.
Better Mood – Less Stress
As one expert explains, “did you know, the smell of flowers and grass can help to relax us? A chemical released into the air from plants, trees, and grasses (phytoncides) will increase our level of white blood cells, in return building our immune system.”
Gardening has been proven to aid psychological health. Working productively in a garden can raise serotonin levels in the brain, which causes you to feel happier throughout the day. Serotonin is a natural antidepressant and direct contact with the soil, and particularly the soil bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae, triggers its release.
Nearly two thirds of people of vaious ages who garden report an improvement in their overall mood as a result. Gardening can boost your creativity and spark innovative thinking, develop problem solving skills and contribute to sustainability. Could you think of ways to re-use plastic in your garden? Recycle your food scraps into a compost bin? Harvest rainwater for your plants?
More Focus and Concentration
While gardening helps you to relax and destress, a garden can also be a place where your physical efforts bring a tangible sense of achievement and pride. Seeing plants thrive and grow, attracting wildlife and supporting the eco system, harvesting home-grown produce – these all represent real rewards for creating a natural environment in which to spend time.
In terms of mental wellbeing, your efforts are rewarded with a boost in confidence and self-esteem. It’s the best motivator you could hope for to keep going. Gardening, then, helps you concentrate on the task in hand, building your attention span. And did you know that there are plants known to have brain boosting properties? Think of planting rosemary, thyme or periwinkle to help you increase your memory and decision making powers.
What’s more, if you are suffering from a short temper or anger management issues, regular gardening work can reduce the triggers of becoming frustrated and angry, replacing it with fulfilment and a sense of accomplishment. The same applies to those suffering the negative effects of too much digital time. Activities such as working in a garden are a great escape from cyberspace, helping us to reconnect with the real world.
Where to Start?
If you need help to get started with gardening as a new hobby, there are several places that can help. How about finding a local community garden to get involved in or apply for an allotment in your local area? Thrive is a charity that runs gardening projects for people with mental health problems while TCV run conservation activities and a network of green gyms across the UK.
Of course, if you have your own garden, however small, there’s nothing like the present to get out there and see what can be done.