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Unexpected Health Benefits of Gardening

Jul 14, 2016

For many people, springtime means planning the yearly garden. Over the span of the summer, various fruits and vegetables fill the countertops and pantry shelves, offering delicious and healthy alternatives to store-bought snacks and junk food. But the nutritional value is not the only benefit in growing your own fruits and vegetables. Obviously, gardening is a great way to get your family away from the screens, and outside in the fresh air, but what about other benefits that are not as obvious?

Gardening has been proven to directly reduce cortisol – the “stress hormone.” Studies show that gardening for an hour, in comparison to say, reading for an hour indoors, helps to increase mood and dramatically lower the brain’s level of cortisol. High cortisol levels can negatively impact mood, immune function, obesity, memory, heart disease, and various learning problems and mental illnesses. Studies have also concluded that when levels of cortisol increase, self-esteem begins to lower. The less cortisol, the better and happier you seem to be.

Exercising is used to help with strength, but what about the muscles that are not as obvious? Gardening is actually a great way to strengthen the muscles within the hands and arms, while supporting dexterity and brain health. Stroke and Alzheimer’s risk-patients have seen beneficial results for rebuilding strength and ability through gardening, using similar hand movements that physiologists recommend for stroke rehabilitation. Be careful not to push it too far or too often – if your body is already compromised, gardening can cause stress injuries from overuse, and in rare cases, carpal tunnel and tendonitis. Alternate using your right and left hand to keep everything in balance, while strengthening your brain function, sensory awareness, and dexterity.

A new kind of therapy is on the market – it’s called “horticultural therapy” and is being used to treat depression and anxiety. The benefits begin with endorphins from physical activity. Many gardeners swear by the buzz they get from tending to their harvests every morning. Endorphins are brought on by physical activity and sweat, so by gardening, you are producing the “happy hormone.” Another benefit, cognitive stimulation, can help with pretty much everything – by stimulating the senses, many report feeling “more alive.” For ideal cognitive stimulation, plant sweet-smelling and food-producing plants with bright flowers to stimulate a wide array of senses. By shocking your senses with pleasant smells and images, relaxation seems to come more easily later on, often lessening feelings of depression and anxiety over time.

The most obvious benefit of gardening is positive feelings and self-esteem brought on by satisfaction of work. Throughout various testing in history, humans have reacted well to a job well done – especially when it produces something delicious that you can ingest and offer to your family and friends. This supports the idea that gardening heightens self-esteem, while lowering depression and anxiety. The benefits of gardening are never-ending – is there anything that gardening doesn’t help?