Growing one’s own food and caring for vegetable or flower gardens is not a novelty.
With the number of people living in urban settings and the increased offer in supermarkets – that presents consumers with a varied and exotic set of products year-round – the need or urgency for gardening becomes questionable.
Having this said, in recent years more people have found their way into urban gardens and household food production. This drive was largely boosted by COVID-19 lockdowns and food shortages.
There is convincing evidence pointing to the multiple health benefits of gardening, both physical and mental (if we want to make that distinction).
Even though overexposure to sun rays (namely UV radiation) is detrimental to our health, getting some sunlight on our skin is essential for vitamin D production.
When exposed to UV radiation, our skin produces vitamin D (D3 to be more precise), which plays important functions in our bodies.
Calcium (the prime component in bones) can only be properly absorbed by the body when vitamin D is present. For this reason, vitamin D deficiency can lead to an increased risk of bone fracture. Furthermore, this vitamin’s anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective properties support immune health, among others.
Depending on what you are doing in the garden, the intensity can go from light to vigorous. Gardening indeed counts as exercise! As such, it has a positive effect on the body, keeping it active, helping develop strength, and improving sleep, too.
Being more active during the day can also help you sleep better during the night, important for maintaining a healthy body, namely a healthy brain.
After growing one’s own vegetables, one is likely to eat them. It might sound trivial and rather obvious, but this can actually improve one’s diet.
On average, people’s diets are high in saturated sugars and fats, and low in important micronutrients which are especially concentrated in vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.
Horticultural products coming from your garden will definitely play a vital role in nourishing your body.
Effects on cognitive function & memory
Recent studies suggest gardening can be of great benefit to people suffering from dementia, as it may spur growth in your brain’s memory-related nerves.
In the above study, researchers gave 20 minutes of gardening to patients being treated for dementia and found some brain nerve growth factors associated with memory in both males and females.
Depression, stress, & mood
There are probably several reasons why gardening can boost one’s mood and alleviate stress. One that is particularly interesting is the presence of microbial life in soil.
There is one specific bacterium – Mycobacterium vaccae – that appears to impact the brain in a similar way to antidepressants. What happens, simply put, is that serotonin production is boosted in brain cells. Serotonin is sometimes called “the happy hormone” because it is associated with well-being and happiness. Generally speaking, serotonin is a natural chemical produced in both the brain and the intestine. It is a neurotransmitter, aiding the body in sending messages between nerve cells, affecting mood, emotions, and digestion.
Gardening has also shown positive effects in managing stressful events. In a 2011 study, a study population was divided into two groups – a reading group and a gardening group. After exposing both groups to a stressful activity, researchers found that the gardening group recovered from the stressful event better than the reading group (this was tested by measuring the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in individuals from both groups).
Apart from all the benefits mentioned above, there is something else about gardening that is worth mentioning. Of course, this is not completely unrelated to what was already said, since it impacts both our physical and mental health.
It is not news that being in contact with natural elements will impact us positively. After all, we are animals who depend on an ecosystem. Alone, we do not exist.
Gardening connects people who join around this activity, and it exposes gardeners to the natural rhythms of the Earth. Watching a little seed transform into a mity fruit or vegetable is an extraordinarily simple, yet rewarding experience. While growing food or caring for flowers, we notice how much life is part of that process.
It really allows one to slow down, be more present and aware, and be grateful, all of which play a role in one’s well-being.