“We may think we are nurturing our garden, but of course it’s our garden that is really nurturing us”, said the British biographer Jenny Uglow, and she could be right.
In England, 64% of people aged 45-64 report spending some of their free time tending a garden. Ask them why and a typical response might be, “it’s good for my sanity”. Scientists are exploring how.
In a paper published in the journal Preventative Medicine Reports, researchers from the UK and Japan quantitatively analysed data from studies that had previously investigated the effects of gardening on health outcomes.
When the team analysed the data of studies that had explored whether horticultural therapy changed health, they found enhanced mental wellbeing, life satisfaction and cognitive function which remained up to 3-months later, suggesting the health benefits from gardening remain long-term.
In another analysis of case studies, the team found those who gardened daily reported reduced stress, improved general health, a lower BMI and increased life satisfaction compared to non-gardeners.
The authors propose several possible pathways all of which are not mutually exclusive.
Gardening is generally a physical experience: all the lifting, stretching, bending, pushing and pulling make gardening a ready-made gym building flexibility, strength, and an aerobic workout.
The experience of growing food may encourage healthy eating.
Community and allotment gardening helps build social connections. For example, feeling part of something collective and purposeful.
Gardening exposes people to the natural world first hand. A tactile connection to the soil, observing insects, patterns, textures and aromas encourages people to notice details often overlooked.
Focusing on a garden helps to divert attention away from the cycle of ruminating and scattered thoughts, allowing the mind to rest and restore an innate sense of balance.
“The results presented here suggest that gardening can improve physical, psychological, and social health, which can, from a long-term perspective, alleviate and prevent various health issues facing today’s society”, wrote the authors.
Soga.M., Gaston.K.J., Yamaura.Y. 2017. Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-analysis. Preventative Medicine Reports, 5,92-99. DOI: org/10.1016/j.pmedr.2016.11.007. Open Access online at Science Direct. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335516301401