My [not ZEN] Garden
As I write this article I'm looking out my office window at another beautiful Spring day. Here it is mid-April, and I can't help but think about what I'm going to plant in my garden this year. Gardening has been a very therapeutic hobby I've cultivated (pun intended 😁) throughout my life and one I'm happy to suggest to others for its numerous benefits. Those benefits are the basis of my article this month.
When you look out the window at a tree or hold a fragrant bouquet in your hands, how does it make you feel? Do you feel peaceful or filled with joy? This shows that plants have the power to heal. Science proves interacting with plants, both indoors and outdoors, is beneficial to physical and mental health. Anyone of any age and skill level can enjoy the benefits of gardening and surrounding themselves with nature. Gardening engages you mentally, physically and socially. You don’t need to live in the suburbs or the country to experience gardening and its numerous health benefits. Gardening can positively impact a number of health outcomes, including:
⦁ Reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety
⦁ Decrease in reported stress and mood disturbances
⦁ Decrease in BMI
⦁ Higher reported sense of community
⦁ Increased physical activity
⦁ Improved cognitive function
Gardening has both immediate and long-term effects on health. For individuals with mental health conditions, horticultural therapy – using gardening as a means to facilitate dialogue and skill building – has shown promise for improving chronic and acute mental health conditions. People report feeling happier almost immediately when engaging in gardening. Over time, individuals lowered their BMI through physical activity and improved nutrition. One study identified improvements in depression, life satisfaction, and cognitive function continuing for 3 months after therapy.
Nature has been shown to be restorative to our minds, cognitively and emotionally. Spending time in nature helps improve our attention. According to researchers, nature restores our minds by attracting our attention without effort (unlike that monitor you’ve been staring at). Using nature for therapy is also promising. Researchers found children with ADHD were more focused following walks in a park compared with walks in an urban setting. Take that Ritalin!😛 But seriously, when feasible taking a natural/holistic approach to the alleviation of any medical condition is best.
Increased physical activity has been shown to improve physical and mental health. Sure, you could get a gym membership, but with gardening, you’re exercising in the sun. Physical activity while in the sun decreases cortisol, the stress hormone, and increases endorphins, which make us feel good. Since you will be in the sun you should still take the necessary precautions of utilizing sunblock, light clothing, and a hat. Melanoma is a "thing" and a very serious one at that.
Gardening is a fun and easy way to incorporate exercise into your or your child’s daily routine. Children usually enjoy working with soil and learning about plants. A child may not even notice they are exercising while they dig, move soil or water plants in the sunshine and fresh air. Gardening also helps children develop motor skills and overall strength, and it can even combat childhood obesity. For example, according to Harvard Medical School, just a half hour of general gardening activities burns 135 calories for a 125-pound person. Plus, it's an excellent opportunity for some family bonding time.
With gardening you can choose your own level of physical activity. If you want to really be active, double digging a new garden bed provides a strenuous workout. If you do not have the space for a whole bed, a few pots on the patio, balcony, or stoop works wonders as well. Consider three pots on the front stairs of a city row home. If you’re in the third floor apartment, you’ll need to walk stairs to water and weed. The tasks may not take long, but that’s more activity then if the plants weren’t there. Plus you’re likely to linger outside, which leads to the other way gardening impacts mental health – by fostering community.
After you walk downstairs to water a few plants in your front yard (or your stoop if you live in the city, pull a couple of weeds, you’ll probably step back to admire your work. You may even say "Hi" to a neighbor walking a dog. One thing leads to another and the next thing you know you're chatting, finding some things in common, and maybe even grabbing a coffee together. Trips to the garden center also create the opportunity to meet new people and chat about plants.
Community Gardeners, those who utilize an allotted plot in a larger group of plots, take this benefit of gardening to another level. Community gardens have shown to:
⦁ Improve relationships among neighbors
⦁ Increase community pride
⦁ Serve as a catalyst for other community improvements and mobilization
⦁ Reduce social isolation
⦁ Create places for positive social interaction
⦁ Serve as a meeting place
To recap, gardening at home or in the community can improve both your physical and mental health. When you’re stressed or tired, being outside tending to your plants may be the best medicine. Need a workout? Skip the gym and pick up a shovel. If you’re looking for fresh food, go out and pick it yourself. And don’t forget to share with your neighbors. 😉