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.
11 Benefits of Gardening
Beyond just ornamenting your yard with beautiful blooms to look at, gardening has a lot of mental and physical health benefits. From lowering blood pressure and burning calories to reducing anxiety and boosting vitamin D levels, read on to see what 20 minutes of dealing with soil can do for your health.
1. Gardening Burns Calories
Light gardening and yardwork burn about 330 calories an hour, according to the CDC, falling right between walking and jogging. Joshua Margolis, personal trainer founder of Mind Over Matter Fitness, says, “raking and bagging leaves is particularly good because you also do a lot of bending, twisting, lifting, and carrying—all things that can build strength and engage a lot of muscle fibers.” 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). And, 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. A recent survey from HomeAdvisor backs this up, reporting that nearly three-quarters of participants felt gardening positively affected their overall physical health. Furthermore, because your blood is pumping while you’re out there digging in the dirt, all that exercise will have added cardiovascular benefits too (more on that below). Win, win, win.
2. It Reduces Anxiety and Depression
Gardening has long been linked to the reduction of stress and anxiety. 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 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.”
So, 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. And Increases Sociability
Here’s another cool mental health perk of digging in dirt: Gardening can make you more sociable (something many of us are struggling with these days). That’s according to HomeAdvisor’s survey that found that “more than half [of participants] felt gardening improved their sociability, which [had] become particularly strained due to social distancing guidelines.” It’s unclear whether this is because gardening is a fun (and COVID-safe) activity to enjoy with other people, or because the mood-enhancing benefits described above are more likely to motivate you to seek out company, but either way, this is one neat benefit.
4. Soil is a Natural Mood-Booster
Fact: the easiest way to increase your serotonin levels (AKA your brain’s ‘happy chemical’) is by spending some time playing in the dirt. No, we’re not kidding; a 2007 study published in Neuroscience suggests that M. vaccae, a bacteria found in soil, works as a natural antidepressant by activating serotonin-releasing neurons in the brain when inhaled. (And no, you don’t need to stick it up to 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.)
5. Gardening Will Increase Your Vitamin D Levels
Did you know that more than 40 percent of American adults have a vitamin D deficiency? And ICYMI— vitamin D plays an essential role in bone growth, bone healing and immune system function. One way to boost your intake of this important nutrient? Gardening for about half an hour a day, three times a week, can 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, our friends at Medical News Today tell us. Just don’t forget to wear sunscreen.
6. 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. 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. And to that end, it makes perfect sense that 42 percent of millennials began gardening during the pandemic, according to HomeAdvisor. “What people are starved for right now isn’t food, but contact with something real,” explains Jennifer Atkinson, senior lecturer at Washington University, in an interview with NPR. Garden guru Joe Lamp’l, creator of Joe Gardener, also shares that gardening can become a Zen experience on the Think Act Be podcast. “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.” So 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.
7. 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 treat your produce. Plus, more than three in five respondents in HomeAdvisor’s survey noticed that gardening positively impacted their eating habits—with 57 percent switching to a vegan or vegetarian diet or otherwise reducing their meat consumption. Of course, gardening can 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. Yet, 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 lovely, compact garden full of your favorite greens will boost these numbers for you and your family.
8. 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 brain nerve growth factors related to memory in elderly patients between the ages of 70 and 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.
9. 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. But that’s not all: While the physical activity involved in gardening decreases cardiac risk, research has also shown that “the Mediterranean diet—which limits red meat and emphasizes fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and healthy fats—[can drastically reduce] your risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions,” according to experts at Mayo Clinic. So don’t just plant those carrots—make sure to eat ‘em up too.
10. 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. And while it’s true that HomeAdvisor's survey found that participants spent an average of $73 each month on gardening, participants revealed that this was comparable to how much they typically spent on takeout (and isn’t a healthy salad of homegrown produce so much nicer than a greasy pizza?). Not to mention that if you get good enough at gardening, you can even grow enough to sell to your neighbors or create a small local business of your own. How’s that for enjoying the fruits of your labor.
11. It Can Spark Creativity and Provide a Sense of Purpose
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. But if you’re not really the “artist” type, you can still reap the psychological benefits of caring for something other than yourself. “When people have purpose, they feel happier. They feel like they have value,” explains Rebecca Don, senior behavioral-health consultant at The University of Iowa. “I think plants are a way to do that on a small scale. [It’s] not the same scale as having children or a career that is very purpose-mission focused, but it’s a cool thing that makes you feel like, ‘Oh, I made that.’” HomeAdvisor’s survey affirms this with 73 percent of respondents—including 79 percent of those with kids —agreeing that gardening is an act of nurturing and care, similar to caring for a pet or child.
What Are the Risks of Too Much Gardening?
As with any form of physical activity, moderation is key. Keep in mind that 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 selecting the types of chemicals you use for your plants. While the Environment & Human Health, Inc. tells us that the Environmental Protection Agency has approved over 200 different pesticides for lawn care, it’s worth noting that they are often mixed with other harsh chemicals that can have severe side effects. Your best bet is to ask the help of a gardening expert who can lead you to the 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 minor 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 vital 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 a 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—and having them die prematurely—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 spring and harvest before the fall frost comes and kills everything.