12 Surprising Health Benefits of Gardening
Gardening is packed with healthy benefits. Discover the many ways gardening is good for your mind, body and soul.
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Chris Martine is a professor of botany at Bucknell University. By day, his research focuses on wild eggplant relatives native to Australia. By night, he's busy networking with other botanists, rallying a community of scientists whose work is becoming increasingly appreciated by the everyday world. Plants, often overlooked as living creatures on this planet, have some surprising health benefits for people. And many of those benefits begin at the very core of our bodies.
Your DNA + the Garden
Gardening, Martine says, is part of our genetic makeup. "It's part of our biology as a species, to cultivate and care for plants. Gardening is really ingrained into our DNA and as part of who we are as people. Civilization follows growing things in the places we want to live."
Vitamin D is an essential component for building strong bones. Unfortunately, it is rarely found in foods outside of fatty fish and milks. Luckily, Martine says there's another source of vitamin D that comes directly from the garden without ever planting a seed — the sun.
"Getting out there and getting your hands dirty is, in itself, a really nice way to break up a day where you might otherwise be inside staring at a screen," he says. "As people, we like to get outside and be in the fresh air and the sun to get a little bit of vitamin D." Just don't forget to wear your sunscreen and a big hat to protect yourself from skin cancer.
A Positive Impact on Mental Health
"Gardening involves close examination of the natural world around us," Martine says. "So many of us are flying through life everyday. We don't take time to sit and watch. But watching my plants grow everyday has slowed down the pace of observation. I can watch every plant in my yard and see what it does."
The Mayo Clinic suggests that Martine is correct. Studies show that gardening can, in fact, reduce anxiety and stress levels.
Less Exposure to Chemicals
By relying on native plants, beneficial insects (ladybugs, spiders, braconid wasps and damsel bugs among others) and honoring the way our gardens and nature interact, gardeners can reduce their reliance on chemicals like pesticides and grow food and plants that have not been exposed to harmful chemicals.
Gardening Is Good for the Planet
Karen Viste-Sparkman of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service notes that pollinators like bees, moths and butterflies are not only essential to life on the planet, they can help your garden plants thrive. And thriving plants help you down the line. "We’ve been growing native plants to give to the public to help promote pollinators," VisteSparkman says. "There’s a growing demand for them and more awareness for what they mean." And protecting pollinators is helping right the balance of the Earth's ecosystem.
Better Overall Health
Stress can not only make you cranky, according to the American Psychological Association, but can also increase your risk of headaches, heart attacks and stomach aches. Just 30 minutes of gardening has been proven to reduce cortisol, the human body's primary stress hormone. High levels of cortisol have been linked to weight gain, sleeplessness, depression and memory loss, among other ailments.
"There's no contest between fruits and vegetables grown in a garden and those on store shelves," says fitness expert "Diamond" Dallas Page (shown here, leading a class). Page has been teaching people how to rebuild their bodies and eat healthy foods through his DDPY wellness program for more than 15 years. "Supermarket foods can have additives in them to make them bigger and brighter," he explains. "Those additives are called Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs. But vegetables you grow yourself? They're organic, which sounds fancy — but it's what your great grandparents just called 'food.'" Growing your own vegetables is also a great way to encourage children to eat their fruits and vegetables — what child doesn't want to eat something they helped grow?
Gardening Builds Community
Community gardens shared by neighbors or like-minded growers are a great way to connect. And common gardener practices like seed and plant sharing also forge important connections between people.
Flowers Foster Happiness
Science has shown that plants and flowers improve mood, peace of mind and a feeling of contentment. Studies have also shown that contact with nature improves your quality of life as you age and can even increase longevity, according to Blue Zones author Dan Buettner, who has found that people who garden also tend to live longer lives.
Clean Eating + More Energy
Fitness expert Page says an increase in organic foods can provide you with more energy throughout the day, whether you use it for more gardening, building your body or mental gymnastics during the work day. Natural sugars are, after all, far healthier for you than artificial ones. There's a vast nutritional difference between a grapefruit and a honey bun. "When you can go out and get fresh, organic vegetables that you grew, it's just like fishing, catching the fish yourself and then bringing it inside to cook," he adds. "There's nothing better than growing your own stuff."
It's Great Exercise
In addition to providing more healthy foods, gardening is also a moderate source of exercise, with even light gardening burning 330 calories per hour. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, moderate intensity exercise for just two-and-a-half hours per week can dramatically reduce the risk of obesity. Keeping obesity in check lowers your risk of high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke, colon cancer and premature death.
Do we have your attention yet? The simple exercises involved with gardening — bending, lifting, digging and standing all qualify as part of a moderate exercise routine.
A Better Night's Sleep
A Penn University study of nearly 430,000 adults revealed that performing the exercise activities associated with gardening can lead to a deeper and longer night's sleep. That pays off in a big way when linked to health risks associated with sleep deprivation like decreased cognitive function, a weakened immune system and increased change of cardiovascular problems.