Happy gardener
Realise your gardening dreams

The health benefits of gardening

From Sarah’s garden to yours

There are many reasons to have a garden. An edible garden can help ease your budget in tough economic times, a flower garden is beautiful to look at, gardens are an environmentally friendly option in an increasingly urban world. They support beneficial creatures, provide homes and habitats for many, and can even offset your carbon footprint. Gardening can be a hobby that offers you something pleasurable to do with your time, and the sense of pride that comes along with it. It is a special place to live, grow and teach your children about nature, creating memories as you play.

All of these things are great, but one of the most important reasons to have a garden is because it is good for you. There are so many health benefits to be gained from a garden and you don’t even need to be doing the gardening to access some of these benefits. Just being in a garden can soothe the soul and bring peace. The sun on your face increases your vitamin D levels, making sure to put on sunscreen beforehand of course. Breathe deeply and take in the fresh garden air, this not only makes you feel good, but improves the way your body operates on the inside.

Kick off your shoes and walk barefoot across freshly mown grass and feel that special connection with nature. Even better, lie in the grass and stare up through the leaves of the trees and let the dappled light shade you from the heat of the day.

At the very least a view of the garden can still be an advantage. Studies have found that patients recover quicker from surgery if there is a view from their bed. A garden is a great place to just be. If you don’t have one of your own, there will be a park or greenspace nearby where you can find some peace in the green.

Happy gardener

Aside from being in the garden as an observer – being in the garden as a gardener unlocks even more health-giving benefits. Many garden tasks are called chores as they can be hard work; very few people list digging or weeding as their favourite job, but for a thriving garden they are essential, and not without their benefits. The bending, stretching, lifting, and repetitive nature of many gardening tasks isn’t too dissimilar to what you may find at a gym, but without the membership fee and you are creating something tangible that you can appreciate after the workout is done.

If you are a new gardener or have taken the winter off and aren’t used to the hard work that comes from the garden, be gentle on yourself and ease yourself into it. Do stretching exercises, warming up and cooling down before and after gardening, to avoid an injury. Take a little and often approach to tackling big jobs. If you find certain jobs too repetitive, and you are straining yourself, break the task up and alternate it with other tasks that use different parts of your body.

Make sure you have tools that are suitable for you and that aren’t too heavy, too big or too small. Look at the task at hand to see if you are doing it in a body efficient way. Alternating which arm you use while raking can alter the pinch points and, most importantly, bend your knees when lifting and digging. If done well, a good session in the garden can leave you both exhilarated and exhausted, and will help you get a good night sleep.

Hands holding soil in the garden

Plunging your hands into soil can have a surprising benefit. There is a microorganism called Mycobacterium vaccae which is found naturally living in soil that has been a great help in medical research over the years. If you encounter it in your garden, it triggers the release of serotonin in your brain and makes you feel a whole lot better about things. Although, as a disclaimer, if you have cats using your garden, gardening with gloves is recommended to avoid a surprise of the wrong kind.

If you are growing edibles in your garden, this brings benefits that can only truly be accessed by home gardeners; what we like to call "fresh is best". Many vegetables begin the natural process of deteriorating shortly after harvest. It is a slow process in general so fruit and vegetables in stores still have more than adequate nutritional benefits, however for those harvested and eaten immediately, the crispness and flavour is enough of an indicator to let you know you are eating things at their very best.

Offering the combination of fresh and healthy food and the workout required to create them, gardens can be a great weight loss or healthy lifestyle program if that is what you are looking for.

The nature of a garden is based on the premise that there is a time for everything, so it forces you to slow down and work at nature’s pace. You become in tune with the seasons and develop routines and structures in the way you care for your garden. Having a reliable rhythm to work with can provide emotional security in troubled times and allows for a simple ‘just put one foot in front’ approach to become a solution.

Gardening can be a very solitary activity, and sometimes we need that, but if we look beyond our gardens, we can reach out to other gardeners who are usually the nicest people. By spending time outdoors, reducing their stress levels, enjoying the wonder of fresh food, with good dirt under their nails and well rested bodies, how could they be anything but nice? Gardeners are also usually very generous with their time, their knowledge, and are often happy to share their seedlings and produce. A sense of connection and belonging gives us so much more from the garden than being alone.

And finally, to truly reap all the benefits, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Stick to a garden size you can manage or get help. Avoid growing plants that are difficult and struggle to thrive in your area or plants that are overly expensive. Gardens should be a place to find relief from stress, not cause it. Enjoy your garden and allow it to grow something good in you.

family in the garden