Spring is in full bloom and summer is just around the corner. With all of the uncertainty occurring around the current Covid-19 pandemic, you may be worried about your health and what you can do to take charge. This virus has caused a lot of schedule changes and lifestyle adjustments for everyone. The kids are at home full time, you may be working from home, or maybe you are unsure of when you will get to return to work. All of these worries can cause a great amount of stress and anxiety. Fear not! As always, the staff of Symmetry is here to lend a hand. This month, we want to tell you how gardening can improve both your mental and physical health.
Many research studies have been done on the positive effects of gardening and the results show that this seemingly small activity can actually have some large impacts. In 2013, The American Journal of Public Health conducted a study that showed that people who garden have a lower body mass index (BMI). Gardening is considered to be a form of physical exercise. Exercise is great for your physical and mental health as it helps to produce endorphins. Experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider gardening to be a form of moderate to high-intensity exercise depending on which activity you partake in. Gardening can include planting, pulling weeds, raking leaves, and mowing the lawn. You can burn up to 330 calories during just one hour of light yard work and gardening. That is more than lifting weights or walking briskly for the same amount of time. That means that gardening for just a couple of hours can burn far more calories than you would from an hour in the gym. That is why The National Institute of Health recommends 30-45 minutes of gardening up to five times a week.
Physical health benefits are a great reason to get out and start a garden and the effects can last a lifetime. A study conducted by The British Medical Journal on the effects of gardening in people ages 60 and up found that the risk of heart attack and stroke decreases by 30% in those who garden regularly. Gardening can also improve your hand strength and reduce your risk of osteoporosis. Being outside in the garden allows your body to absorb sunlight which produces vitamin D. Vitamin D helps you absorb calcium which will strengthen both your bones and your immune system. Regular gardening also allows you to take part in repetitive tasks and actions that can ensure all of your major muscle groups are being utilized. This can help decrease the risk of losing bone density as well. Additional studies have shown that the strenuous activity and exposure to sunlight that comes from gardening can improve your sleep habits and have you feeling well-rested.
Physical health isn’t the only health benefit you will receive from gardening; an improvement in your mental health can also be linked. Research suggests that engaging in a physical activity such as gardening can help lower the risk of developing dementia. This study followed a group of people in their 60s and 70s for 16 years and found that those who gardened on a regular basis had between a 36 and 47 percent lower risk of developing dementia than their non gardening peers. Unlike in the winter time when many can experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, gardening in the spring and summer can actually elevate your mood due to extra exposure to the sun’s rays. Gwen Freid, the Manager of Horticulture Therapy at NYU Langone’s Rusk Rehabilitation Center states, “Nature has a huge impact on health and wellness. We know that people’s cortisol levels go down in a calm, green environment.” This is why more hospitals are using planting and flower arranging as a type of rehabilitation for patients recovering from injuries, strokes, surgery, and other conditions. A study conducted at Rutgers University showed that flowers are a natural and healthful moderator of moods and have an immediate impact on happiness. The study showed that flowers and gardening can make for a more intimate connection between individuals. In fact, a 2016 study in The Journal of Public Health showed that people who work in community gardens have significantly better self-esteem, total mood disturbance, and general health compared to those who do not garden. Gardening can even help to lower stress and improve concentration. Experts say that gardening can help you enter a state of consciousness similar to that of what you experience while meditating. Once you are in this state, you won’t need to worry about bills, deadlines, or anyone but yourself. Just breathe in the fresh air, focus on the garden, and forget about your worries for a while.
Why should adults be the only ones who benefit? Gardening is a great activity to get your kids involved in. Not only will you get to spend quality time bonding with them, but they can learn from their experience. Maintaining a garden and keeping plants healthy is a great way to learn and practice responsibility. Spending time in the garden is also a great way to enhance the sensory system. There are so many different textures, colors, smells, and noises going on in a garden that it is an easy way to help young children learn about all of their different senses. Gardening outdoors can also offer an improved connection to the world and nature when you and your children experience the sights, sounds, and changes of seasons first hand. Growing your own food in your garden not only helps you to maintain a healthy and well-balanced diet, but it can teach your kids about where food comes from and the hard work that goes into producing it. The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Science says that this may also be a good way to get your kids to try new foods that they may not have been open to before. Digging in the dirt is another great health benefit for children and adults alike. Exposure to M. Vaccae, a healthy bacterium that lives in soil, can increase levels of serotonin and reduce anxiety. Exposing children to dirt and naturally occurring bacteria at an early age can build up their immune system and reduce their risk of developing asthma, allergies, and eczema in the future. Children can also expand their imaginations by building a fairy garden in their own backyard.
Gardening inspires us to experience feelings of awe, gratitude, and abundance; three things that we could all use more of. Instead of focusing on all of the negativity and unsure feelings in the world right now, take the time to focus on yourself and your own health. Gardening should no longer be seen as a chore but, rather, an investment into your health and well-being. Being in a garden allows us to feel a profound connection to nature. This affords us the opportunity to focus on the beauty that surrounds us. Step into your garden and relax.