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Gardening is Mind-Body Medicine

Gardening has become popular during the pandemic—and we should keep doing it.

Key points

  • Gardening has been linked to a variety of mental and physical health benefits.
  • Gardening has health benefits for children, adults, and the elderly.
  • Gardening decreases social isolation and fosters the senses of community and purpose.
  • Gardening can take place in private outdoor spaces, community gardens, via indoor plants, and in urban as well as suburban and rural settings.

It is a beautiful fall day in the northeast, and even though I could (finally) be brunching with friends or otherwise “getting out,” this morning I am gardening. It’s difficult to capture adequately why gardening is so therapeutic, and yet, I am not alone in realizing that without fail, gardening is a simple yet potent tool for fostering well-being.

For me, weeding allows the meditative time and space that my own mental health requires; clearing the earth of debris simultaneously clears and balances my inner landscape.

As I prune roses, the connection to the earth grounds me. Along with spent blooms, the stresses of the week are cleared; I am now anchored in the present moment and able to visualize the plants—and myself—flourishing.

Gardening nurtures my needs to be caretaking and creative, solitary and reflective. Paradoxically, engaging in this solitary activity provides the balance that enables me to find greater enjoyment in community, including but not limited to when gardening with others.

The Research: Gardening for Better Health

Even pre-pandemic, before forced separation and confinement made us crave nature’s spaciousness, research showed that gardening has real benefits related to mental and physical health.

For example, a 2020 review of the literature examined the results from 77 studies from across the globe. The researchers found that gardening resulted in measurable improvements on a variety of dimensions of health and well-being.

Specific physical health benefits from gardening include:

  • Better nutritional intake via greater intake of fruits and vegetables
  • Increased activity levels
  • Decreased body mass index
  • Improved blood glucose levels
  • Reduced incidence of falls

Specific mental health benefits include:

Other research has shown that gardening’s benefits extend to people across the lifespan, from children to the elderly. These benefits have been demonstrated in both healthy individuals as well as those with a variety of health problems, including dementia.

Other Benefits of Gardening

Gardening certainly has practical benefits: What we plant can benefit us and those in our immediate sphere by providing food, shade, aroma, and beauty. It can also help us to have a greater sense of meaning and purpose; what we plant can contribute to cleaner air, reduce soil erosion, and provide food for bees and other pollinators. Gardening ultimately provides a way for us to do our part to save the planet. That's pretty powerful.

Incorporating Gardening Into Your Self-Care Regimen

  • If you have a yard or other outdoor area where you can garden, consider planting fruits, vegetables, herbs, or ornamentals that do well in your area. A visit to a local garden center can help you determine what to plant.
  • If your outdoor space is limited, consider herbs or other container plants that you can grow inside (avoid indoor plants that can be toxic to children or pets).
  • If neither of the above is an option, or in order to reap the social benefits of gardening, connect with others via community gardens, garden clubs, and online gardening communities.

References

Chalmin-Pui, L. S., Griffiths, A., Roe, J., Heaton, T., & Cameron, R. (2021). Why garden?–Attitudes and the perceived health benefits of home gardening. Cities, 112, 103118.

Howarth, M., Brettle, A., Hardman, M., & Maden, M. (2020). What is the evidence for the impact of gardens and gardening on health and well-being: a scoping review and evidence-based logic model to guide healthcare strategy decision making on the use of gardening approaches as a social prescription. BMJ open, 10(7), e036923.

Smith-Carrier, T. A., Beres, L., Johnson, K., Blake, C., & Howard, J. (2021). Digging into the experiences of therapeutic gardening for people with dementia: An interpretative phenomenological analysis. Dementia, 20(1), 130-147.

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