Gardening can improve the beauty of your surroundings or put a bounty of vegetables on your plate. But it’s also excellent therapy for your stressed-out mind. Below are four ways that gardening enhances mental well-being.
Gardeners often take up the hobby hoping that it will help them relax and unwind. And there’s good reason to believe they’ll reap this reward. In fact, gardening may be a more effective stress-buster than many other hobbies.
In a 2011 study in the Journal of Health Psychology, researchers from Wageningen University and Research Center in the Netherlands randomly assigned recreational gardeners to either work outdoors in their own plots or read indoors for a half-hour. Gardening led to greater reductions in the stress hormone cortisol. The gardeners also got a mood boost that the readers didn’t get. The added benefits may be partly due to the rejuvenating effects of spending time in nature.
Studies have shown that gardeners are more likely to eat their veggies than non-gardeners. It makes sense: Once they've invested the time and energy to grow a carrot or squash, they’re more likely to actually eat it.
Vegetables and fruits are packed with antioxidants, which are thought to help protect the brain from the ravages of aging. When researchers fed extracts of strawberries, blueberries, or spinach to aging rats, the diet improved communication between the rats’ brain cells. Scientists believe that something similar may happen in humans. As a general rule, dark-colored vegetables—such as spinach, kale, broccoli, beets, red bell pepper, and eggplant—tend to have the highest antioxidant levels.
Digging, hoeing, raking, turning a compost heap, and hauling garden supplies can be a serious workout. According to the American Council on Exercise, gardening activities such as these can build muscles and burn an average of 300 calories per hour.
Staying physically fit benefits the whole body, including the brain. Physical activity seems to enhance the formation and survival of nerve cells in parts of the brain involved in learning and memory. It’s also linked to better functioning of what’s known as executive control—mental skills such as multi-tasking, scheduling, and planning. Plus, physical exercise is a proven mood booster, easing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Planting a garden can beautify your personal landscape. It can also be a means of expressing your creativity and identity: is your garden—and by extension, your personality—a neatly manicured plot, a bold riot of color, or a wild tangle of vines?
Your garden can say a lot about you. At the same time, it’s a way of literally putting down roots. As you care for the plants, you naturally grow more attached to the place. Over time, it comes to feel like where you belong.
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