Hey, you, watching HGTV. Put down the remote and pick up the trowel, because the real deal is way better for you than watching other people’s yard makeovers on TV. Did you know that gardening burns more calories than walking? Or that the smell of soil actually increases serotonin levels? Or that planting flowers can promote monk-level relaxation? Read on for these and more amazing benefits of gardening.
10 Benefits of gardening
Beyond just ornamenting your yard with beautiful blooms to look at, gardening has a lot of health benefits. From lowering blood pressure to reducing anxiety and boosting vitamin D levels, you’ll be surprised what 20 minutes of dealing with soil can do for your health.
1. Gardening burns calories
Light gardening and yardwork burns about 330 calories an hour, according to the CDC, falling right between walking and jogging. This probably doesn’t come as a huge surprise: Anyone who’s ever done substantial weeding and tilling knows how easy it is to build up a sweat (and feel sore the next day). But unlike walking and jogging, gardening is also a creative art, says horticulturist David Domoney, so it allows us to express ourselves in a way that hitting the gym doesn’t. And because your blood is pumping while you’re out there digging in the dirt, all that exercise will have added cardiovascular benefits too. Win, win, win.
2. It can help reduce anxiety and depression
Gardening has long been linked to the reduction of stress, anxiety and depression. Ever heard of horticultural therapy? It’s basically just using planting and gardening to improve mental and physical health, and it’s been studied since the 19th century (and was popularized in the 1940s and ‘50s when gardening was used to rehabilitate hospitalized war veterans). According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, “Today, horticultural therapy is accepted as a beneficial and effective therapeutic modality. It is widely used within a broad range of rehabilitative, vocational and community settings.”
How does it work? “Scientifically, there is evidence that suggests that there are two main modes of attention,” says Domoney. “Focused attention, which is what we use when we are at work, and fascination, which is what we use when we take part in hobbies such as gardening. In this theory, too much focused attention can lead to stress, and fascination then plays a part in restoring our attention and alleviating that anxious feeling we get when we are put under too much pressure, or feel like we can’t cope.” So it turns out that the best antidote to a tough day at work is not ice cream, but gardening. Duly noted.
3. Soil is a natural mood-booster
A 2007 study published in Neuroscience found that M. vaccae, a bacteria found in soil, activated serotonin-releasing neurons in the brain when inhaled. (And no, you don’t need to stick it up your nose or inhale tons of it to get the effects—just taking a walk amid nature or hanging out in your garden will trigger this response.)
4. Gardening will increase your vitamin D levels
Did you know that more than 40 percent of American adults have a vitamin D deficiency? Gardening for about half an hour a day, three times a week, will help you get enough sun to keep your vitamin D at a healthy level. And the benefits are tenfold: By getting adequate vitamin D, you’ll reduce your risk of osteoporosis, cancer, depression and muscle weakness. Just don’t forget to wear sunscreen.
5. It can help you stay mindful and present
There’s something wonderfully meditative about gardening, with the simple, repetitive tasks, the peace and quiet and the beautiful surroundings. And as garden guru Joe Lamp’l, creator of Joe Gardener, shares on the Think Act Be podcast, gardening can become a Zen experience. “When I'm out there weeding, I want to hear the birds,” he says. “I don't want to hear anything else. It's a quiet time, and I relish it. It’s a sacred time for me.”
Even back in the Middle Ages, monastic gardens, which were tended to by monks, became a spiritual retreat—not only for the monks, but for the entire community. The next time you’re watering your begonias, be mindful of how connected you are to the earth, to nature and to your community. Ahh, we feel better already.
6. It can help you eat healthier
We all complain about not knowing where or how our food is grown. Was it injected with GMOs? What kind of pesticides were used? Having your own personal garden can help combat these gnawing questions because you know exactly how you treated your produce.
Gardening will also help you keep up with the daily intake recommended by the government. The USDA advises that the average adult eats between 1 ½ to 2 cups of fruit every day and between one to three cups of vegetables. However, the most recent federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans reveal that about 80 percent of the U.S. population does not meet this bar, while 90 percent of the population is also slacking when it comes to their vegetable intake. A nice, compact garden full of your favorite greens will boost these numbers for you and your family.
7. It can improve your memory
In addition to giving your arms and legs a healthy workout, gardening does the same for your brain. A 2019 study conducted by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that gardening helped in brain nerve growth factors related to memory in elderly patients between the ages of 70 to 82. Scientists found that levels of brain nerve growth related to memory had increased significantly after the subjects were required to participate in some form of gardening activity—including cleaning a garden plot, digging, fertilizing, raking, planting/transplanting, and watering—for 20 minutes per day.
8. It can lower your blood pressure
In addition to reducing anxiety and depression, gardening can also reduce your chances of heart attack or stroke. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 30 minutes of moderate-level physical activity on most days of the week, and gardening is an easy way to get that heart pumping without overexerting yourself. Science Daily reports that people over the age of 60 who partake in some form of gardening are 30 percent less likely to have a heart attack or stroke.
9. Gardening saves you money
We can’t be the only ones who think the price of a bundle of kale is outrageous. With your own garden, you can cut costs and numerous trips to the grocery store by simply growing your own produce. If you get good enough at gardening, you can even grow enough to sell to your neighbors and create a small local business of your own. How’s that for enjoying the fruits of your labor.
10. It gets your creative juices flowing
Suffering from writer’s block? Can’t seem to nail those colors for your latest painting project? We’ve all been there, and a stint in the garden can unlock all the ebbs and flows of creativity. As we stated earlier, gardening helps you relax and stay mindful. Focusing on the minute details of gardening such as trimming the weeds or just harvesting your plants can calm you down and help you flow more than force your way through that art project.
What are the risks of too much gardening?
As with any form of physical activity, moderation is key. You don’t want to do too much gardening to the point that it becomes a hazard to your health instead. We get it, trying something new and seeing it actually come to fruition can incite a level of excitement that makes you want to spend as much time in your garden as possible. However, long days under the sweltering hot sun can lead to sunburn. So make sure you’re applying and reapplying sunscreen as needed.
You also want to be extra careful when you select the types of chemicals you use for your plants. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency has approved over 200 different pesticides for lawn care, according to the Environment & Human Health, Inc. However, they are often mixed with other harsh chemicals that have severe side effects. Your best bet is to ask the help of a gardening expert who can lead you to the best and safest pesticides for your home garden.
Once you have all that sorted out, you also have to account for some soil-borne risks. Make sure you’re up to date on your tetanus shots, as tetanus bacteria can live in soil and enter your system through small cuts and scrapes. Also be mindful of disease-carrying bugs like ticks, as they have the potential of spreading diseases such as Lyme Disease. Ensure that you wear thick, protective gardening gloves, tuck your pants into your socks and wear a hat as you work, to avoid bringing in some of nature’s little rascals into your home.
4 Tips for More Productive Gardening
- Follow the light. Knowing how the sun travels across your yard is key when it comes to fostering a healthy garden. Most edible plants require at least six hours of sunlight, so make sure they’re planted in an area where they can bask with no problems.
- Hydration is key. You also want to make sure that you plant your garden near a close water source, that way it’s not a hassle for you to bring your plants that much-needed H2O. Place your garden in spot you can easily bring the hose.
- Pick your soil wisely. It won’t matter how much care you give your garden if your plants are rooted in soil that doesn’t work for them. Defer to a gardening expert with all your queries about the type of plants you want to grow, and they’ll lead you in the right direction.
- Know when to plant. There is nothing worse than seeding your plants too early then having them die because it’s still too cold for them to thrive. Give your produce a better shot at surviving by knowing the frost schedule for your area. That way you can plant them right on time during the springtime, and also harvest before the fall frost comes and kills everything.