This piece was written by one of our contributors; medical student w/ BSc in human nutrition and MSc in clinical and public health nutrition – Rebecca Fox.
With temperatures rising, trees blooming and birds singing, many of us are finding new and creative ways to make the most of the great outdoors while maintaining a social distance. In particular, gardening has recently grown in popularity with people of all ages sprucing up their backyards and balconies alike.
While gardening may simply be an enjoyable pastime, it may also help contribute to your overall physical and mental wellbeing. Here are a few of the most widely recognised health benefits of gardening:
Its a form of exercise
While planting flowers or digging vegetables may not immediately come to mind when thinking of a workout, gardening can be an excellent way of getting in some extra physical activity.
A South Korean study assessed the intensity of gardening tasks such as digging, raking, weeding, watering and planting for adults in their twenties. The study found that these activities were of moderate to high intensity based on metabolic equivalents determined using respiration, with digging being the most intense . Doing each of these various activities allows strengthening of different muscle groups and engages your whole body in one way or another. Furthermore, the NHS also includes heavy gardening involving digging and shovelling as a form of strength exercise (which we should partake in twice per week!) .
So, next time you’re looking to switch up your workout (or add to your current routine), look no further than your backyard!
It lowers stress
Does the idea of lounging in a grassy meadow surrounded by trees immediately put you into relaxation mode? If so, you’re not alone.
According to a recent systematic review, spending time outdoors whether that be taking a walk through nature, gardening, or simply viewing nature from afar, has beneficial physiological effects . Specifically, this review found that spending time outdoors was able to reduce blood pressure and heart rate following an acute period of stress. In addition, studies looking at ways to reduce stress and improve healing times in patients recovering from surgery or other hospital treatments have found similar benefits from spending time surrounded by nature. It has been shown that patients who are recovering from surgery had improved mood, reduced use of pain relief drugs, lower complication rate and reduced length of stay when they were able to view trees and plants from their hospital room windows compared to those who couldn’t . As a result, many hospitals and care centres have had gardens placed in or near medical facilities.
Similarly, looking at the specific effects of gardening on stress levels, a study published in the Journal of Health Psychology showed reduced cortisol levels for those who participated in gardening activities when compared to a control group .
Overall, these studies show that spending time in the great outdoors may have the potential to do worlds of good for those dealing with both acute and chronic stress.
It helps you reach your 5-a-day
Picture having a backyard (or window sill!) filled with farmer’s market ready fresh produce. Would you feel inclined to eat more veggies?
Researchers at Michigan State University wondered the same thing. Their study found that adults who participated in a community garden were 3.5 times more likely to meet their 5 a day fruit and veg goal compared to those in the same community who did not participate in gardening . This may be down to having a sense of accomplishment in growing vegetables, or, the proximity of fresh produce on a regular basis. Either way, finding new ways to get more fruits and veg is always good in our books.
So, while there’s a number of reasons why getting your hands dirty is a good idea, getting started is often the most difficult step! Here’s a few ideas or starting a garden, no matter how big or small:
For small spaces
Try using small planters
- Filling a few large planter boxes with soil is a great way to get started with gardening- especially if outdoor space is tight. Just fill a couple of large bins with soil and plant to your heart’s content! (of course, while following the seed package instructions)
Take advantage of your window sill
- If you’re living in an apartment or flat with no minimal outdoor space, fear not! Your window ledge is a great spot to have a few pots of herbs like basil, parsley, oregano, or even a cherry tomato plant! Having herbs and small veg like these close to hand near the kitchen is a great way to incorporate fresh produce into your regular recipes.
For big backyards
Use the square-foot gardening method
- This method essentially involves planting within the confines of multiple square-foot areas of soil. See the citation for more details on how to set it up, but this method makes it easier to organise your plants into a manageable plot rather than endless rows !
So, go forth and garden, we’re rooting for you!
(1) Park, S., Lee, A., Lee, K., and Son, K. (2014). Gardening Tasks Performed by Adults are Moderate- to High-Intensity Physical Activities. HortTechnology hortte 24, 1, 58-63, available from: https://doi.org/10.21273/HORTTECH.24.1.58 [Accessed 28 May 2020]
(2) NHS. 2020. NHS Exercise. [online] Available at: <https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/?tabname=how-much-exercise> [Accessed 9 June 2020].
(3) Kondo MC, Jacoby SF, South EC. Does spending time outdoors reduce stress? A review of real-time stress response to outdoor environments. Health & place. 2018 May 1;51:136-50.
(4) Ulrich RS. View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. science, 1984 224.
(5) Van Den Berg AE, Custers MH. Gardening promotes neuroendocrine and affective restoration from stress. Journal of health psychology. 2011 Jan;16(1):3-11.
(6) Alaimo K, Packnett E, Miles RA, Kruger DJ. Fruit and vegetable intake among urban community gardeners. Journal of nutrition education and behavior. 2008 Mar 1;40(2):94-101.
(7) Bartholomew M. All new square foot gardening: The revolutionary way to grow more in less space. All New Square Foot Gardening; 2013 Feb 15.