FEATURE — If the idea of digging in the dirt has never much appealed to you, consider this: A growing number of studies are finding improved mental and physical health benefits of gardening that extend far beyond the obvious rewards of exercise and fresh air.
It’s hard not to enjoy life when you’re surrounded by flowers, vegetables, and all the wildlife they attract — and now there’s science to back that up. Professors from the University of Texas and Texas A&M asked 298 older adults how they would rate their “zest for life,” levels of optimism, and overall resolution and fortitude and found that gardeners had significantly higher scores in all those areas than non-gardeners. Considering that antidepressant use among adults over 65 has nearly tripled since the 1980s, finding natural ways to improve quality of life and levels of happiness is something we should be striving for.
Gardening could be useful in warding off the blues in our aging population. It’s probably no surprise that gardening, and all the physical activity that goes along with it, can lead to weight loss and better overall physical health, but did you know it might improve your bones as well?
In a study of 3,310 older women, Lori Turner and researchers from the University of Arkansas found that women involved in yard work had lower rates of osteoporosis than joggers, swimmers, and women who did aerobics. That likely has to do with the fact that gardening is sort of like weight training; you have to pull weeds, dig holes, carry heavy loads of soil and compost, and do weight-bearing activities that ward off osteoporosis.
Those with diabetes also reap the benefits of gardening. One of the primary components of managing diabetes is getting enough physical exercise. Active gardeners easily get more than the recommended 150 minutes per week of exercise, and those who garden just for fun get just slightly less than that, according to research from Kansas State University.
Also, if you grow food in your garden, you have another diabetes-management tool at your disposal: fresh produce. A number of studies have found that diabetes rates are lower in areas with community gardens, or places where backyard gardening is more common.
The wellness benefits of gardening are not just physical. The mental health benefits of gardening are so strong that a field of medicine called horticultural therapy has been developed to help those with psychiatric disorders deal with their conditions. People with dementia and anxiety have found that gardening helps calm their agitation, leading to better sleep patterns and improved quality of rest.
Even if we are fit as a fiddle, physically and mentally, there is no reason the rest of us won’t benefit, too. Researchers from the International Society for Horticultural Science interviewed 42 people both with cancer and without cancer, and found that all of them, the well and the unwell alike, used gardening as a coping strategy for stressful life situations. None of us are immune to the effects of stress. The less stressed we are, the better we function and happier we are in any given moment.
Even if you just garden for fun, it’s nice to know you’re also improving and safeguarding your mental and physical health, as well! That’s certainly a benefit worth reaping.
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Written by Paul Noe for St. George Health and Wellness magazine and St. George News.
Paul Noe has spent 50 years in the nursery business and 26 years with Star Nursery. He is a staff horticulturist with Star Nursery, a member of the Board of Agriculture in the state of Nevada, a Certified California Nurseryman and a Certified Horticulture Advisor by Nevada Co-operative Extension. Paul is also known as “Dr. Q” from Star Nursery’s Dr. Q product line.
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