Can Gardening Boost Your Health?

How about stress release, physical activity, social connections, and produce?

Particularly during COVID

Gardens and gardening promote health and well-being. A new scoping review of 77 studies showed that gardening promotes mental health, physical health. Specific positive outcomes include reduced stress and depression, and improved self-esteem; reduced isolation and increased social networks; increased physical activity and lower body-mass index. Gardening appears to be an effective way to improve health and well-being.

What about older people? Are they too infirm to garden? To the contrary, gardening may help community-dwelling older adults improve their quality of life through physical activity, social engagement, and productive activities. Australian researchers surveyed 331 seniors with an average age of 69 years who reported participating in various gardening activities and experiencing psychological, social, and physical benefits. Psychological restoration appeared to be the most beneficial aspect of gardening. Contact with nature, either actively or passively, underlay the benefits of gardening. The benefits increased as the time spent gardening increased (average of 10.4 hours per week). Being a member of a gardening group also predicted greater benefits. Gardening can enhance psychological well-being and physical health of older people.

Global interest in community and home gardens is booming. Intuitively, one might think that community and home gardens would provide health and well-being benefits. Yet, most of the evidence isn't supported by hard data. Researchers in Portugal addressed this deficiency by conducting a systematic review of eight cross-sectional studies that quantitatively evaluated aspects of community and home gardens in six different countries.

Overall, the studies showed positive health outcomes, regardless of participants’ age, gender, ethnicity and country of residence. Gardening (during the warmer months) might help people reach the minimum recommended amount (150 minutes per week) of moderate-intensity physical activity. Gardening might help people live with purpose, which predicts better health outcomes. Community gardens provide opportunities for safe socialization among garden neighbors, which may have been especially important during the COVID pandemic. People who garden might be better able to defuse chronic stress arising from daily life. Gardens provide green space that predicts improved health and well-being.

The COVID pandemic disrupted life globally. Did the pandemic affect how people viewed gardening? An international team of researchers addressed question using an online survey during the first wave of the pandemic during May-August 2020. A total of 1,449 participants, average age 53 years, mostly well-educated urbanites, from 21 countries (mostly developed) with gardening experience completed surveys. The respondents reported that gardening provided strong support for nature connection, individual stress release, outdoor physical activity, and food provision. Food provision and economic security were especially important to respondents reporting greater hardships during the pandemic. The benefits of gardening identified prior to COVID were heightened during the pandemic, particularly by more stressed people. Thus, gardening may have provided a sense of hope and a strategy to deal with the social disruptions caused by lockdowns. If you're a newbie to gardening, you can start with a potted cherry tomato on your porch. The photo shows garlic cloves I planted last fall are up through last week's snow. Yes!

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