4 Oct 2018

Gardening your way to a healthier lifestyle

Ardd Fotaneg · Botanic Garden

Is gardening good for your health?

It seems obvious really, gardening involves being outdoors in the fresh air, it requires walking, bending and stretching and can provide us with fresh fruit and vegetables. But can gardening really replace your gym membership?

My name is Sarah Carroll and I’m a PhD student from the University of Sheffield. I’m currently undertaking a 3 month placement working within the Growing the Future team at the National Botanic Garden of Wales. During my placement I have been researching the health benefits of gardening and looking at ways in which gardening could be used within the healthcare system.

Whilst gardening doesn’t require the same levels of physical activity as sports such as running and cycling, there are many advantages of gardening. Tasks such as digging and raking are still good exercise, raising your heart rate and deepening your breathing, yet the risk of injury is much lower (although do be careful to make sure your digging technique is correct to avoid back pain!). Gardening for less than half an hour daily is enough to reach the NHS guidelines for physical activity in adults, which is an easily attainable target.

Gardening can also strengthen your bones and muscles, with tasks such as pushing wheelbarrows and pulling up weeds being particularly beneficial. No excuse to not do your weeding! Maintaining muscle strength is particularly important in the over 65s, as this can help with balance and reducing falls. Jobs such as pruning can also help to keep the joints in your hands moving, which can help to relieve stiffness and pain in the early stages of arthritis.

You may not feel like you’re doing a workout whilst completing your gardening tasks, but the time spent in the garden adds up and you can actually burn more calories than a gym session, often without realising! Each day in the garden is different and work is seasonal, this variability can make gardening more enjoyable than repetitive exercise classes and the reward of seeing the garden in full bloom or harvesting your vegetables is hard to beat.

One of the major motivations for many gardeners is the satisfaction of harvesting your own produce. Whether this is picking berries or digging up carrots, gardening can fill your house with fresh and healthy produce. Getting children involved in gardening at an early age has been shown to increase their fruit and vegetable intake, as children enjoy being able to eat the products that they have helped to grow. The dietary habits learned as a child can persist throughout life, making it important to teach these behaviours early on.

As well as benefitting your physical health, gardening can also be good for your mental health. For example, depression is a widespread condition affecting millions of people. Loneliness has been shown to be a contributing factor to depression. Gardening can help with maintaining social contacts and meeting people with similar interests, with allotment and community gardening schemes being particularly social activities. Many people who participate in community gardening schemes say that the social aspect is one of the most important parts of the garden.

For many gardeners their allotment or garden gives them a place to escape to and forget about the pressures of everyday life. Spending just 30 minutes gardening can reduce stress and anxiety levels, with tasks such as potting plants and mixing soil being shown to be particularly good for stress relief. A study carried out at Bristol University showed that contact with a soil bacterium called Mycobacterium vaccae increases ‘happiness hormones’ in mice, whilst this is yet to be replicated in humans, it looks like getting your hands dirty really is good for your health.