April 13, 2017

Experience stress relief through gardening

General Health

April is Stress Awareness Month, and also a time when we experience warmer temperatures and see green things growing where empty branches or snowbanks used to be. Stress awareness should receive continuous attention, but we take the time to focus on ways to improve our health with the different health observation months that come along. To engage stress awareness with the joy that springtime can bring, we’ve decided to highlight the benefits that gardening can have on stress relief.

The study

An October 2011 HortTechnology journal published a study that explored the potential benefits of gardening for healthy aging. Of all the topics tested in the study, the most interesting discovery was the lower levels of stress reported by study participants, crediting the “contribution of engagement with nature and psychological restoration.”

The study may have happened quite a few years ago, but the findings are timeless. Several other horticulture, health, and news sites have published articles about the stress relieving benefits of gardening. And for active gardeners, they may not be able to put this experience into words, but they understand the positive effects that gardening has on their well-being.

Some specific benefits include:

  • Allowing ourselves to disconnect from information overload. Much of our day is spent paying attention to details and lots of printed and digital information. Being outside takes some time away from a heavy media environment.
  • We experience engagement of our senses. As you’re tending to a flowerbed or row of tomatoes, the wind blows and you feel it. You can smell the scent of the plants on the breeze. Your eyes can see lots of greenery, but also splashes of bright colors throughout the landscape. Many plants (and certainly fruits and vegetables) are edible, and you can taste their freshness. You can feel the different textures and changing temperatures of earth, moisture, and dirt beneath your gloved fingers. Much of what you hear is…silence. Or the light outdoor sounds of nature.
  • The act of gardening may ease the symptoms of depression. Christopher Lowry, Ph.D., an assistant professor of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado in Boulder, has been studying the biological effects of Mycobacterium vaccae (a harmless bacteria found in soil), and has found that they increase the release of serotonin in parts of the brain that control thinking and mood.
  • Gardening gets you outside in the sunshine and moving around. There are lots of different movements required in gardening – engaging your core abdominal muscles, moving your joints, the repetitive motions of bending, crouching, pulling, digging, gripping, and walking or lifting. And exposure to sunshine helps your body absorb the essential Vitamin D that it needs.
  • Food gardening provides great nutritional benefits. Food you grow yourself is the freshest food you can eat. Individuals and families that grow their own food tend to eat healthier. Studies of after-school gardening programs suggest that children who participate in food gardening are more likely to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, and are more willing to give new foods a try. And, homegrown food simply tastes better.

You don’t need a large garden to get started or have a green thumb to enjoy the benefits of growing things. Start small, or by volunteering to work with others that have more experience and can share tips and tricks for success.