Unearthing the benefits of gardening

April 14, 2017

Gardening gives you more than a beautiful yard, it can also make you happier, writes Lyn Beasy*.



As the weather cools, our natural inclination is to enclose ourselves indoors. However, there are many health benefits when we expose ourselves to natural light and fresh air.

Even small amounts of exercise outdoors can lead to greater energy exertion and it boosts our wellbeing more than indoor activity. In fact, interacting with nature, whether on a grand scale or in our own backyard, has a healing quality that reduces stress and improves our mood and wellbeing.

A study in the Netherlands discovered that gardeners had lower cortisol levels after spending half an hour in the garden. Cortisol is the hormone that measures stress levels, and chronically elevated levels of cortisol can have detrimental effects on our health—especially the immune system. If you have poor-quality sleep or anxiety, gardening is also useful because it requires physical exertion and lowers cortisol levels.

Spending time in the dirt can have other added health benefits too. Scientists have found the healthy bacteria mycobacterium vaccae, which is common in garden soil, triggers the release of serotonin which in turn elevates mood and assists in the alleviation of depression. Further, the bacteria may improve our immunity to allergies.  

The growing field of horticultural therapy is providing proven results for people with depression and other mental illnesses. The benefits appear from the combination of physical activity, being in natural surroundings, mental stimulation and the satisfaction of accomplishment.

University of Copenhagen researchers are currently looking at whether people suffering from chronic stress will see a greater improvement in their condition after spending regular time in a healing garden. The researchers observed that the garden provided a stimulating and peaceful environment for participants to either work in or simply sit and enjoy. The therapy can also benefit patient recovery from surgery or stroke by improving mobility, flexibility and coordination.

With backyards shrinking, there is less space to develop your own large garden. However, you can still grow a few plants on a balcony or in a vertical garden. Many vegetables and herbs can be regrown from kitchen scraps, such as lettuce, carrots, sweet potatoes, celery and basil. This is a great way to reuse what would normally be thrown out, teach children how to care for the environment, and experience the therapeutic benefits of being connected to nature.

If this isn’t an option, you can still enjoy the benefits by visiting a local botanical garden, or joining a community garden scheme.

Between the physical and mental benefits we receive from gardening, it seems there’s more to the saying “Stop and smell the roses” than we once thought. So pull on those gloves and get digging.

*Lyn Beasy is a psychologist at the Caringbah Wellbeing Clinic in NSW.


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