We all know that gardening is good for the earth and good for the pollinators, but it's also highly beneficial to our health beyond those feel-good moments of starting a seed or picking a flower. Whether you tend to potted plants on a balcony or run a full-scale urban homestead, the act of gardening can improve your mental and physical well-being in ways that traditional medicine can't. Here's how:
1. It boosts your immune system.
Gardening is a good way to get your daily dose of vitamin D, otherwise known as the sunshine vitamin. Food alone can't provide the amount of vitamin D our bodies need, but exposing bare skin to sunlight in the middle of the day can. All it takes is 15 minutes of sun exposure for a fair-skinned person (up to a couple of hours for a darker-skinned person) for the body to start producing vitamin D. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, a mineral essential for bone health. And researchers from the University of Bristol's School of Biochemistry have found that a flash of calcium is the first trigger in our body's immune response to healing.
2. It lowers blood pressure.
All that shoveling, digging, moving pots around and hauling bags of soil is considered moderate-level activity. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 30 to 45 minutes of gardening can help lower blood pressure and it doesn't all have to be done in a single block of time. Break it down into smaller 15-minute sections throughout the day, such as watering in the morning and weeding in the afternoon.
3. It burns calories.
Besides lowering blood pressure, gardening can also burn more calories than you think. It made the list on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site as a recommended activity for maintaining a healthy weight. According to the CDC, just 30 minutes of light yard work can burn 165 calories, while 1 hour can burn 330 calories (give or take). Step up to some heavy yard work (like chopping wood) and those numbers go up to 220 calories (30 minutes) and 440 calories (1 hour).
4. It's highly therapeutic for people with dementia.
A new study by the University of Exeter Medical School found that gardening has many healing qualities that benefit dementia patients. The psychological benefits include stimulating memories and lowering aggression, while spending time outside encourages physical activity and improves symptoms without the use of drugs. Read more about it at Science World Report.
5. The smell of soil is a natural antidepressant.
Not only is gardening therapeutic... it's also pharmaceutic. A bacterium in the earth called Mycobacterium vaccae has the ability to release serotonin in the brain the same way Prozac does. According to this article, taking in the fresh, clean scent of soil (by running it through your hands or walking through the woods, for instance) naturally reduces stress, supports mental performance, and increases overall feelings of happiness.