May is one of the most beautiful months here in Colorado -- trees and shrubs are in full bloom, birds are singing, and it becomes hard to resist the urge to get outdoors and enjoy the sunshine.
For many of us -- myself included -- this month also marks the beginning of gardening season. Now that we're well into spring and past our last frost, a lot of us are out there getting our hands dirty and planting our summer gardens.
Aside from being fun, challenging, and uniquely rewarding, keeping a garden can also be hugely beneficial to our health. Whether you’re a plant junkie or you’re new to the hobby, here are 10 health-boosting effects of gardening that might surprise you.
1. You’ll get great exercise.
Gardening may not always seem like hard work, but it’s surprisingly good exercise. Activities like digging, pulling weeds, or pruning -- not to mention lugging around big bags of soil -- make a great moderate-intensity workout. You might burn as many as 330 calories from spending an hour doing light work outside!
And you don’t just get aerobic exercise from gardening -- it also builds strength in every major muscle group and sharpens coordination. So if you love being outdoors, working in your garden is a fantastic way to stay active during the summer months.
2. Gardening can improve mood and stress.
Spending time in the garden has been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. It increases serotonin and dopamine, lowers cortisol, and helps us feel more connected with other living beings. Gardening is a powerful form of therapy for mental conditions as well as addiction recovery.
Being in nature gives us a chance to unplug from the stresses of daily life and step away from our computer and phone screens. When we work with the soil, we breathe in a beneficial bacteria called mycobacterium vaccae that may boost serotonin levels and put us in a happier mood.
3. It boosts heart health and lowers blood pressure.
Because gardening is a physical activity, it strengthens your heart, lowers your blood pressure, and improves your cardiovascular health. In fact, in one study, adults over 60 who did gardening and other DIY activities at home had up to a 30% lower risk of heart attack and stroke compared with their less-active peers.
While you can also get these cardiovascular benefits from other forms of exercise, spending time in your garden might be more fun than hitting the gym, especially when the weather’s nice -- and you can still get the activity your body needs.
4. You’ll save money by growing your own fruits, veggies and herbs.
Some people get into gardening because they want to grow their own food and be more self-sustaining. Growing and harvesting fruits and vegetables in your own backyard is not only satisfying; it also helps feed you and your family. Starting plants from seed -- or picking up a few baby plants at your local nursery -- gives you more food for a lower price than you’d ever find at a grocery store.
For the foodies and herb lovers among us, it’s worth investing in some herbs as well. Many herbs are perennial, coming back year after year, and the ones that aren’t are still less expensive to grow than buy at a store.
5. Home-grown food has more flavor and fewer chemicals than store-bought alternatives.
Another benefit of gardening? Home-grown food is packed with flavor and nutrients. The produce at your local grocery store has usually traveled a long way to get to you, so it’s not nearly as fresh or vibrant as the stuff from your garden.
Plus, mass-farmed produce often contains pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals you may not want in your food. When you have your own garden, you get the ultimate say in how your food is grown, and if you want to go completely organic, you absolutely can.
6. You can get extra Vitamin D from being outside.
Anytime you’re outside in the sun, you absorb Vitamin D through your skin. Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones and a strong immune system. According to research, getting a moderate amount of sunlight may lower your risk of serious health conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, MS, and certain cancers.
Of course, sun exposure also increases the risk of skin cancer -- so it’s always essential to use sun protection (such as sunscreen and a hat) when you’re spending time outdoors.
7. Gardening is satisfying and can improve self-esteem.
Growing and tending your plants can be incredibly fulfilling. It’s fascinating and beautiful to watch them grow, blossom, and bear fruit -- and it’s satisfying to know that you raised and took care of them the whole way. Your plants are living things that depend on you for their survival, so gardening can be a wonderful outlet for someone with a strong caretaking or nurturing instinct.
Gardening can also heighten creativity, sharpen our cognitive skills, and draw us into the present moment like few other things can. You’ll be awestruck sometimes by the beauty of what you see. Working with your plants can be meditative and profound, and the garden contains many lessons about the cycle of life.
Each day brings something different and you never know what you’re going to see. But one thing’s for certain: having a garden can be a rich experience that adds meaning and purpose to your life.
8. It offers a way to connect with others.
Connecting with other gardeners can be one of the best parts of gardening. You never stop learning as a gardener, and if there’s something you want to know, just ask around -- most people are more than willing to share their tips and tricks (or commiserate about the damage from the most recent hailstorm).
Gardening can also be a fun social activity. If you have a garden at home, you could tend to your plants along with your partner or kids. Or, you might garden alongside your friends or neighbors at a community garden plot. Either way, it’s a lovely way to spend time with others.
9. You could lower your risk of dementia.
Would you believe that gardening can even benefit your brain health? All physical activity can improve cognitive functioning, but some research suggests that gardening can stimulate nerve growth in your brain, particularly in nerves related to memory -- which means it could help prevent dementia later in life.
10. You may live longer.
Regular gardening may help with longevity. Gardening is also a common activity in the so-called “blue zones” of the world (areas where people frequently live to be 100 or older). Given all of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits I’ve mentioned, maybe that fact isn’t so surprising -- but gardeners tend to be healthier, less stressed, and longer-lived than non-gardeners.
Gardening may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and there are many other wonderful hobbies out there. But if you’ve never tried gardening and you’re curious about it, why not try it and experience some of the benefits for yourself? You may not stay with it forever -- but you could also discover a new skill and passion that will last a lifetime.