Garden for Your Health and Well-Being

Better physical and mental health

Greater well-being

Increasing evidence suggests that gardening confers health benefits. Yet, until 2016, no quantitative meta-analysis of previous studies existed. Japanese and British researchers scoured the published academic gardening literature and found 22 case studies from the US and Europe. The studies included 76 comparisons between treatment (gardening in some form) and control groups. For all 76 comparisons, the average standardized mean difference between each pairwise comparison was statistically significant 0.42 (on a scale of 0-1.00). All but four of the individual comparisons occurred in a healthful direction.

The researchers also organized the 76 comparisons into eight groups: outcome types (health, well-being); gardening types (therapy, non-therapy); comparison types (before/after gardening, gardeners/non-gardeners); and respondents (patients, non-patients). The standardized mean difference of all eight group comparisons was statistically significant. Interestingly, gardening predicted greater improvement in well-being than health. This result may reflect that health benefits take longer to manifest than well-being benefits. Mechanisms that might account for the health benefits of gardening include 1) experience in nature, 2) greater physical activity, 3) greater social connections, and 4) better diet. Both home and community gardens may provide substantial health benefits. The latter may also help reduce community-level health inequities.

A large and heterogeneous literature reports the effects of gardens and gardening on health and well-being. A new scoping review of 77 studies found that, gardening promotes mental health, physical health, and well-being, with considerable variation along studies. Examples of more 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. The scoping review found that many of the included studies suffered from methodological problems, thus limiting confidence that gardening enhances particular outcomes. Gardening appears to be an effective way to improve health and well-being.

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 gardened at their home or at a community garden for at least one hour per week. Respondents reported participating in various gardening activities and experiencing psychological, social, and physical benefits. Psychological restoration appeared to be the most beneficial aspect of gardening for these seniors. The degree of 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 health of older people.

My wife, Betsy, and I have gardened for decades. We enjoyed planning our garden each winter. We (mostly) enjoyed the physical labor of preparing our garden for spring planting in late March. In April, we're watching the spinach, lettuce, Swiss chard, and pea seedlings emerge from the soil. This spring, summer, and fall, we'll enjoy eating the kale, Swiss chard, beans, and potatoes, among other garden goodies, and giving the surplus to our neighbors. If you don’t have space for a backyard garden like we do, how about sharing garden duties with a neighbor who has a backyard garden or getting a community garden plot? You’ll probably be healthier and happier if you do.

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