With more than half the world’s population living in cities, it is very important for our overall health that we make an effort to spend time outdoors and surround ourselves with greenery. A growing body of research suggests that contact with nature has numerous benefits for our physical and mental health, especially for those living in urban settings and with limited access to natural environments. Being exposed to nature for at least 120 minutes a week is linked to better self-reported health. One way for everyone to experience this kind of contact with nature is gardening, a physical activity that has been shown to have a significant impact on health, both mental and physical.
Gardens are an important aspect of the urban landscape, and according to the Royal Horticultural Society, they represent 22–27% of the total urban area in the United Kingdom, and contribute 86% of the total urban tree stock. Apart from providing urban biodiversity, gardening is associated with a wide range of health benefits. These benefits vary from lower blood pressure and lower rates of depression and anxiety, to increases in life quality and satisfaction. Gardening is a moderate intensity exercise, similar to cycling and dancing, which the NHS recommends we should at least do 150 minutes of a week.
Gardeners report higher levels of physical activity during the summer compared to neighbours without gardens, according to a study conducted in the Netherlands. Additionally, older adults who garden regularly report better scores on health and overall well-being than non-gardening neighbours of the same age. The exercises involved in gardening require strength and dexterity, such as digging and mowing, and are very calorie intense. By mixing up tasks like raking, lifting soil bags, or weeding periodically can help you strengthen your whole body, incorporating more musculature, adding to the health benefits, and helping with weight management.
A study conducted in Japan assessed the impact of transplanting on blood pressure in older adults in care homes. The study found that blood pressure measures were significantly lower after participating in the transplanting task than the control task. Allotment gardening can boost your mood, as it improves self-esteem by reducing tension, depression, anger and confusion. 269 participants took part in a study conducted from 2006–09 with the aim of determining the effect of gardening on wellbeing. Participants answered a questionnaire on their self-esteem, mood, and general health before and after the gardening session. The gardeners were also asked to note what they enjoyed about gardening in the allotment. There were five main sources of enjoyment for the participants: being outdoors and with nature, a sense of achievement, restoration, and stress relief. Research has also shown that generally, gardeners tend to have a greater quality of life. Gardeners and non-gardeners responded to a life-satisfaction questionnaire found on an online resource for Texas Master Gardeners. Differences were found on statements about energy levels, optimism and zest for life.
The neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote in a posthumous collection of writings, “Everything in its Place”, “I have found only two types of non-pharmaceutical “therapy” to be vitally important for patients with chronic neurological diseases: music and gardens. […] I found that there was nothing long-shut-in patients loved more than a visit to the garden.” He writes how his patients with advanced dementia or Alzheimer’s disease knew exactly how to garden, “I have never seen such a patient plant something upside down.” A study that explored the experiences of patients with dementia who participated in community gardens revealed the importance of gardening activities. The participants were able to express and reconnect with aspects of themselves and their agency, which wasn’t as possible during their everyday life.
Besides just being a good way to exercise, taking care of a vegetable patch or growing produce can supply you with healthy ingredients for everyday cooking. The presence of allotment gardens has also been linked to better diets. Participating in the growth and cultivation of vegetables and fruits promotes healthy food preferences and an increased consumption of them amongst the young, according to the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Gardening plays an important role in promoting health and wellbeing for those living in urban areas, which can in turn reduce inactivity and the health concerns related to it, such as obesity. Furthermore, gardening enables social interactions, counteracts social isolation, involves creativity, communication with others, and improves cognitive functions. At FitQuid we encourage the community to participate in regular exercise in gardens and allotments, add to your weekly physical activity and live a healthy lifestyle.
Auri Carballo Rolph