If you’re looking for a feel-good way to improve your physical and mental health, consider gardening. “From building your social connections to strengthening your brain, there are a lot of factors that are behind the positive health benefits of gardening,” said Loren Lasater, MD, a family medicine physician with Banner Beyond in Arizona. Here are six research-backed ways gardening can help you be healthier.
1. Gardening can improve your mental health
Call it horticulture therapy if you like. Dr. Lasater said that gardening can help reduce depression, anxiety, stress and low mood. “Being out in nature is linked to improved overall health,” he said. Even marveling at things like how a tiny seedling produces pounds of zucchini can add awe to your life, which can reduce anxiety.
2. Gardening can help you lose weight
When you’re gardening, you’re growing whole, healthy fruits and vegetables. Adding more of those foods to your diet can help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. And people who grow their own food tend to eat more fresh produce—a cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet. Research has found that people who garden are less likely to be overweight than people who don’t.
3. Gardening can improve your quality of life
Gardening can help you stave off diseases and health conditions that can make it tough to do the things you want to do in life. You get some benefits from the sunlight you’re exposed to when you’re gardening. It can help lower high blood pressure and increase vitamin D levels (just don’t overdo it). Microbes in the soil can help strengthen your immune system. And eating the healthy foods you’ve grown can help decrease your risk for heart disease and cancer.
4. Gardening can connect you with your family and your community
Gardening might be a family affair. It’s something you, your partner and your children can do together. Or you might grow your fruits and vegetables in a community gardening plot. There, you’ll benefit from social ties with other gardeners. And even if you garden by yourself in your backyard, you’ll likely exchange seeds and seedlings with other gardeners. Plus, you’ll connect with friends and neighbors when you share the inevitable bounty from your vegetable garden.
5. Gardening can help you get more physical activity
You might be watering your tomatoes, harvesting your melons or pulling the weeds from around your lettuce. When you’re gardening, you’re almost always moving. So, when you spend time in your garden, you’ll likely naturally be more active. Most general gardening tasks count toward the moderate activity you need. More intensive tasks like digging or hoeing can boost you up to the vigorous activity level. And when you garden, you use almost all your muscles. It’s nature’s full-body workout.
6. Gardening can increase your cognitive function
Research has found that gardening is good for your brain. Being around plants can help you be more productive and creative. Gardening may improve your cognitive performance and memory. And research has found that gardening may help protect against or treat dementia.
“There are not many activities that can so dramatically improve your health as inexpensively as gardening,” Dr. Lasater said. “When you garden, you have fun, get a little exercise, enjoy camaraderie and eat a healthy diet. It can be a very therapeutic prescription for a healthier life.”
The bottom line
Gardening might just seem like a relaxing way to spend time outdoors. But when you grow your own fruits and vegetables, you’re adding a lot of physical and mental health benefits to your life. If you’d like to talk to a health care professional about the best ways to improve your health, reach out to Banner Health.
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