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.
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 how sore our arms and legs will feel the next day). But unlike walking and jogging, gardening is also a creative art, adds horticulturist David Domoney, so it also 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 been studied since the 19th century and was popularized in the 1940s and ‘50s when gardening was used to rehabilitate hospitalized war veterans. “Today, horticultural therapy is accepted as a beneficial and effective therapeutic modality,” the American Horticultural Therapy Association describes on its website. “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 (eek)? 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 helps 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 has become a very Zen experience for him. “When I'm out there weeding, I want to hear the birds. I don't want to hear anything else. It's a quiet time, and I relish it. It’s a sacred time for me,” he says.
Monastic gardens, which were tended to by monks and date back to the Middle Ages, 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.