Physical and Mental Health Through Gardening
Stress is a major problem facing a lot of people in today's society. New technology that allows every moment of life to be interrupted has further contributed to these conditions, so people have a serious need for relief. But how can a person get this relief? Studies show that having healthy hobbies can greatly reduce stress. Some people might like getting lost in video games and other pursuits, but others may be looking for a more practical or down-to-earth approach. If that’s the case, you should try exploring gardening!
Everyday more people turn their backs on large crowded cities to go somewhere better for their health and happiness. Some retreat to the outskirts of the cities while others go completely off-grid. Nowadays there is a bit of a trend where younger families abandon densely populated areas for a plot of land on which to grow their food and make themselves sustainable and more or less independent.
Reconnecting With Nature
In this world humans as a race have developed through the years in nature and rely on it. We are tightly connected with it like any other species on this wonderful planet. As we grew and technology advanced over the last few hundred years, we witnessed some changes in nature as well as in our behavior.
Through studies, people have been informed about the benefits of spending time in nature, such as the benefits to physical and mental health which got people more interested in things like gardening.
If you’re can’t go to a forest or don’t have a huge backyard, gardening is a great opportunity for you to bring nature to your home no matter where you live.
What are the Benefits of Gardening?
No matter what type of gardening you plan on doing, there are benefits.
From growing simple flowers that just smell nice and spice up the surroundings with wonderful colors and smells, to small-scale horticulture which provides food for you and your family. There is real satisfaction in producing your own food and knowing exactly how it was grown.
Taking good care of the soil and plants isn’t always easy, digging holes, watering, transporting and lifting everything needed, or just pulling weeds can be a sweat-inducing activity.
Over time, exercise will lead to improved coordination, strength, dexterity, aerobic endurance, and muscle mass. You could even go on a weight loss journey, tending to the plot while providing yourself with the needed nutrients from it.
Regardless of the size of a garden to keep it healthy you need to plan and maintain it properly. These thinking processes have been linked to improved cognitive functions and a better ability to concentrate.
If you are a person with social issues like anxiety, you could participate in a community garden to get two birds with one stone. Work on people skills, boosting your self-esteem as well as getting the benefits of gardening.
Even though the act of gardening itself isn’t an extreme sport like jogging or running, it involves the use of coordination, and strength to produce many of its essential tasks.
When gardening you have to be in the sun, which will get you your daily dose of vitamin D. Vitamin D is an important nutrient for every system in our body, including our brain, heart, kidneys, immune system, and bones.
Using your hands and moving soil or river rock from one place to another, a person may have to lift as much as 30 or 40 pounds. Even though activities don’t last for sustained periods, a human will experience a wide range of motion and activity that will easily raise their heart rate.
- A routine. If you are not one for stretching warm yourself up by light work first, some raking, pruning, picking vegetables, and a hole or two might get you worked up just fine. Take it slow, with time you will be able to do more at once.
- Dig like you are expecting gold. Digging is a high-intensity gardening activity, pushing down with one foot, bringing it up, and turning it over engages multiple muscle groups. Remember to switch hands and feet.
- Try to mix the activities. Doing a single thing for a prolonged period can result in sore muscles or get you fed up. So, stop carrying bags or picking the low-hanging vegetables and go do something else for a while.
- Strength training. You can incorporate some exercise to increase the intensity of gardening. Squats while pulling weeds to engage your core and legs, some lunges while on break from digging to stretch.
- Be aware of your form. Doing any activity can result in an injury so be aware of what your body is doing. If you’re tall be sure to use a tool with a longer handle to avoid back pain. When lifting heavy items don’t bend at your hips, instead bend your knees. If something hurts stop and take a break.
- They are there to make your work easier, the tool should do the majority of the job. But don’t make it too easy on yourself, use a push mower instead of a power mower.
- Get others involved. If you have kids, you can teach them a lot about everything regarding soil and plants like nurturing, harvesting, and photosynthesis. And give the kids a workout by making some activities a competition i.e., who will dig a deeper hole in a set amount of time.
Whatever you do in your garden is time well spent, better out there than sitting inside. When you are occupied time flies and before you know it, you did your daily workout.
Keep in mind to start slow and do not get disappointed if you fail at something. Keep your tools sharp and ready, apply sunscreen, and don’t miss out on a hat for those sun-shiny days. Be sure to water yourself frequently, not just the plants!
Mental Health Benefits
Gardening is slow and it requires patience. It can bring peace to a fast-paced chaotic life making you more relaxed and able to cope. You can’t rush the growth process and expect good results.
Your garden can teach you a few things:
- Relinquish perfectionism. The good old “why even bother if it can’t be perfect?” doesn’t have a place in gardening. You need to embrace the fact that you have a lack of control in gardening because there are countless factors to consider when planning in detail. Things like bug invasions, changing weather, and pesky rodents will have a say in your plans.
- Building new relationships. An easy way to meet new people is to have something in common. Attending a local gardening gathering may provide you with much-needed knowledge, experiences, and new friendships.
- Connecting to the nature around you. Tending to your plot of ground really means having a relationship with it. With time you start to take note of everything around you and your garden. How nature’s elements affect it, where the sunlight falls through the day, how much rain you had, the temperature, and most important the cycle of the seasons.
- Being present. A garden could be your protected place to practice being mindful. The place where you tune in with the elements, soaking in everything nature has to offer. Imagine after a day of heavy rain you take a chair in your colorful garden, sit surrounded by the plants you grew with birds chirping around chasing worms that just surfaced during the rain.
- Reduction in stress. You don’t have to always work in your garden, take time and see what you have accomplished, and think about how much you changed your surroundings for the better. Just simply be in your garden, experience it, and let nature give back peace for your hard work.
- Better diet. This one is pretty much self-explanatory. You know what you are eating, and you are avoiding mass-produced goods on which pesticides are used. A better diet means greater health because, at the end of the day, we are what we eat.
During a study, two groups were placed in a stressful situation. After the trial had ended each was placed in different environments, and the group that had been sent to perform gardening activities was tested for levels of cortisol, a primary stress hormone.
The doctors saw a noticeable difference in cortisol levels in the gardening group and were able to conclude that the exposure to the gardening environment had a pleasant effect on the subjects. They now believe that activities of this type can have a massive effect on people who are stressed out.
In an interesting twist, some scientists have been testing other more biologically based theories about why being in the outdoors with plants can be so beneficial to humans. A study from 2010 shows that gardening for about 30 minutes lowers your cortisol levels.
In nature, through our years of development, we were exposed to a specific type of bacteria that is present in the soil. Mycobacterium vaccae triggers a release of serotonin which decreases anxiety and improves mood.
It’s also been observed that people gain more benefits when the actions that they take have a reason or purpose. This purposeful work has far-reaching benefits for the brain, it can even help elderly people who are dealing with symptoms of dementia.
The younger population could find huge benefits from gardening as well since it can lead to improved learning, even creating an increase in test scores.
Tips on how to get started
Just start, the longer you think about it and try to prepare the less likely it is to happen. You need just a little dedication and effort, if you fail try to learn from it.
"The worst that will happen is you'll learn something. And that's worth the price of a plant, every time."
- Start small. Plant something close to your house so it is easy to take care of and you can see it each day to track its growth. It is easier to add to a garden than to overdo it and get overwhelmed.
- Your preferences. Get the things you like to eat and plant those, some easy plants that grow quickly are lettuce and radish. You will be surprised how much motivation you get from your first harvest.
- Healthy soil. Everything grows from the soil so it is crucial to keep the soil healthy. Try to avoid synthetic fertilizers and instead use organic material like compost, aged manure, shredded leaves, or bark. Compost is the best thing to add to soil because it has everything plants need.
- Plant knowledge. Before you dig a hole and stick your plant in the ground ask the provider what are the optimal conditions for that plant. Is it in the sun, shade, and wet or dry?
- Pay attention. Spend some time daily to observe what is happening to the plants. This is the best way to avoid any problems and further learn about your garden.
A well taken care of garden will give back to you many times more than you invested through produce, knowledge, and health. If everyone had just a small plot of land to tend to and the right equipment the world would be a better place. It would reduce the dependency of people on mass-produced fruits and vegetables.
So many positive experiences can come from gardening; knowledge about growing things, connecting to nature, and forming connections with other gardening enthusiasts.
If you are living in a high-rise building you could have a small garden on your balcony (if it’s allowed of course) with a few herbs, basic vegetable plants, and flowers. Create a place where nature will thrive and you will thrive with it. We all come from nature but unfortunately, we are disconnected from it.
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