Even while sheltering in place, you can enjoy the amazing science-backed health benefits of gardening. And, we’re not talking about the food itself (so if you don’t succeed at growing much, don’t worry!).
The act of gardening itself offers many health benefits (1).
There’s something about the age-old task of going outside, enjoying the sunshine, feeling the dirt, and growing your own food that’s good for the body, mind, and soul.
Here are just some of the health benefits of gardening.
When you spend just 10-15 minutes in the sun, with just your hands or arms exposed, you up the vitamin D levels in your body. This, in turn, improves your immune function, calcium levels, Vitamin D increases your calcium levels, and more.
In fact, one recent study has reinforced how vitamin D from sun exposure during activities like gardening, and from supplements, may reduce the risk of both seasonal influenza and COVID-19(1). If your vitamin D levels are normal, regular outdoor sun exposure can keep your levels healthy. If low, practice both gardening for vitamin D and supplementation.
Who couldn’t use a better mood these days? Stick your hands in the dirt and grow something!
A study from the Netherlands found that gardening fights stress even better than many other hobbies. In this study, participants first completed a stressful task. Then, they were told to either read inside or go outside and garden.
The gardening group reported better moods, and lab tests supported that they had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, afterward.
Yet another study found out why gardening is so effective. When we inhale M. vaccae, a healthy bacteria that live in soil, our bodies respond by increasing serotonin and reducing anxiety. All it takes in getting down and dirty in the soil, or even just walking in the garden or woods. Amazingly, inhaling the soil and gardening is even linked to fewer childhood allergies (2).
It may not seem like an aerobic effort, but gardening at a moderate intensity can burn more than 300 calories per hour! Plus, it requires a lot of muscle work to bend, kneel, dig, and hoe.
What’s more, you can improve trunk strength with twisting, and flexibility with bending.
The best part?
You may enjoy it so much you won’t even recognize it as exercise.
Another health benefit of gardening is a boost in brainpower.
One 2006 study reported that gardening may lower the risk of dementia by as much as 36%! This study followed more than 2800 people who were 60 years old or more. It lasted 16 years.
It found that those who participated in physical activity, and especially gardening, were less likely to get dementia (3).
Another wonderful health benefit of gardening is better sleep. And better sleep provides benefits to our immune system, moods, and health.
How does gardening help?
First, light physical activity like daily gardening is associated with better sleep at night (4).
What’s more, especially if you get out early in the morning, natural early sunlight improves our circadian rhythms and melatonin levels later in the day, making it easier to fall asleep and enjoy a high level of sleep quality.
As we age, the strength in our hands and feet often diminishes. In fact, as we use our feet less, the muscles can weaken to the point that we require extra padding and support in our shoes.
But, strong hands and feet are health benefits of gardening.
By digging with your hands, and occasionally walking the garden barefoot, you can activate these muscles while enjoying the soil and land. Digging, hoeing, shoveling, and more are great for upper body strength. Walking, kneeling, and twisting will strengthen your lower muscles.
Along with a better mood and less anxiety, the amazing health benefits of gardening include better blood pressure.
In fact, just 30 minutes of daily moderate-level physical activity, and especially those combined with outdoor activity like gardening, can prevent and control high blood pressure.
Gardening is just what the doctor ordered.
We may not be able to truly socialize at this time during COVID-19. However, usually, gardening is a wonderful way to socialize.
You can garden in a community garden. Or, take gardening classes at the local home improvement shop.
During social distancing, you join gardening forums or online classes to learn and connect with others.
Gardening is a great way to stay healthy. In fact, the health benefits of gardening extend from your brain to your feet. As we shelter in place while putting our own individual health at the forefront, it’s never been a better time to plant a garden. Get in the dirt and stay healthy!