Prof Alistair Griffiths, The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Director of Science and Collections and co-author of RHS Your Wellbeing Garden: How to Make Your Garden Good for You book
The act of gardening helps us to keep fit and connect with others, to enjoy and be part of nature and to revel in colour, aroma, wildlife and beauty. Simply contemplating nature helps to rest and recharge our brains. Aside from cultivating beautiful plants that delight our senses, we can also grow food and even cures for minor ailments in our gardens.
There is an increasing body of scientific evidence that a regular dose of gardening can improve public health. This is evidenced throughout the world. Numerous studies throughout the world, including the UK now provide robust evidence for the positive physical, mental and social effects of gardening on health. There are very few, if any, other activities that can achieve all of the things that gardening can – in particular, the measurable impact on active lifestyles and mental wellbeing. The King’s Fund published on behalf of the National Gardening Scheme the Gardens and health: Implications for policy and practice report which provides a good resource as does a paper on Gardening is beneficial for health – a meta-analysis.
A regular dose of gardening can provide a wide range of health outcomes, such as reductions in depression, anxiety, and body mass index, improved physical activity, as well as increases in life satisfaction and quality of life. Gardening has been shown to reduce the levels of the stress hormone cortisol and perceived stress by promoting neuroendocrine and affective restoration. An RHS study showed that a few containers put into grey streets in Salford reduced perceived stress by 6%- equivalent to eight mindfulness sessions and increased healthy cortisol patterns from 24% to 53% of the people. Another study indicates that gardening improves cell aging profiles.
Calorie calculators from various sources suggest that garden work burns around 250 – 500 calories per hour and physical exercise during gardening is sufficient to trigger complex activity within our brains which releases chemicals that not only help us to feel good, but also helps to protect and improve cognitive function and behaviour. A study with 370,000 UK women showed that gardening reduced the risks of fractures of their upper and lower limbs.
Findings from research found that private gardens were rated as more restorative than other private spaces. A study estimates that the weekly use of a domestic garden is worth between £171 and £575 per person, in terms of its physical and mental health benefits. Aggregating this estimate across the UK’s gardeners suggests national health and wellbeing benefits are worth between £4.1 billion and £13.8 billion
A healthy diet through Growing Your Own to provide plants packed with essential vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytochemicals (plant chemicals), but low in fat and calories. This makes them vital for a healthy diet, lowering risk of cancers and heart disease. Indeed, growing crops in your own garden can help boost health giving phytochemicals in your plot. How you select, grow, harvest, store, and cook your fruit and vegetables also has an effect on their nutritional value.
Gardening is also a great source of Vitamin D. The body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin when outdoors, therefore most people should be able to get all the vitamin D they need from sunlight whilst gardening. Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. These nutrients are needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy.
Many more people have found gardening to help with their mental health during the COVID-19 lockdown and more doctors and health professionals are increasingly prescribing gardening, as part of the social prescribing movement. A recent collaborative Salford University and Royal Horticultural Society social prescription study at the therapeutic garden, RHS Bridgewater Garden proved successful.
Cultivated plants, gardens and gardening, be it indoors or out, a single house plant or a small patch of land are not just nice to have but essential in providing preventative nature-based health care for us as a species. Get Gardening!
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