As the first frosts blacken our tender herbs and garden plants shiver and shrivel up with the change of season, it is good to recall the wellness benefits of gardening.
Seasoned gardeners may instinctively feel the health benefits of their hobby without knowing the scientific background for some healthy outcomes, but research is supporting the fact that working in a garden makes people feel better.
The first thing that comes to mind as a garden benefit is the exercise component. Digging and shoveling are the most intense strength building activites and doing either for 30 minutes burns 200-360 calories and is similar to working on a gym’s weight machine. Raking is interchangeable with a gym rowing machine; mowing the lawn is similar to walking on a treadmill. Most gardening work is strength training in nature and not aerobic exercise, but is a good complementary activity to some aerobic workout.
Adding the benefits of fresh air and exposure to the vitamin D of the sun (work for 15 minutes before applying sunscreen) and there is even more benefit.
Many gardeners work in the soil without gloves, preferring to scrub their hands and nails after working in the dirt simply because touching the soil feels so good. Research shows that there is a bacterium in soil called mycobacterium vacae that transfers serotonin into the body via touching the soil. Serotonin is one of the feel-good hormones that boosts mood in the brain. Working in soil therefore is natural antidepressant therapy.
An emerging field called horticultural therapy uses garden work as a healing modality with people who have various health problems. Assisting people with Alzheimer’s disease through the use of plants has been one of the most successful uses of horticultural therapy, as memory improvement results from the scent of plants, and touching of green growth brings back memories. One does not need to be a horticultural therapist to reap health benefits. Simply play in the soil, plant bulbs, weed the garden, and get your hands in contact with soil.
There is another wellness phenomenon in gardening which is similar to the absorption of feel good bacterium from the soil. It is called earthing, or sometimes grounding. Basically, by walking barefoot on earth, grass, sand or stones, healthy ions are absorbed into the body. These ions repel the unhealthy toxins in the body via increasing our antioxidants. People on vacation who walk on sand soaked with ocean water often report sleeping better and it seems that the magnesium in ocean water is a natural muscle relaxer. Companies online now sell earthing sleep mats which people are using for improved sleep and products that the arms can rest on while doing computer work to simulate absorbing natural health ions like we get from nature’s surfaces.
When people plant food gardens they have the benefit of eating food that they have grown organically and feel psychologically successful in producing food from seed to harvest. The act of harvesting one’s own food appears to raise another health-boosting hormone called dopamine in the body. Like serotonin, dopamine is another feel-good hormone and is known to improve the immune system and reduce inflammation in the body. An increase in dopamine is accompanied by a decrease in cortisol, the negative stress hormone.
There still is time to plant a few bulbs, rake an area to start a veggie garden in spring or even just go out and feel the soil and rake some leaves over it to let their organic benefits break down over the winter. Be green and feel great: go garden while we still can.