Gardening can play a significant role in a healthy lifestyle ? and not just because of any fruits and vegetables you grow. Even if you don?t have the greenest thumbs, you still can enjoy the benefits. Here are nine surprising ways gardening can boost your health.
1. It uplifts your mood
A growing body of research has linked being around nature to stress relief and an overall improved mood. And it seems gardening falls under that category. A study on gardening and stress had participants complete a stressful task before assigning them either to 30 minutes of gardening or 30 minutes of indoor reading. Both groups experienced drops in their cortisol levels (the stress hormone), but the gardening group had much more significant decreases. Plus, gardening managed to restore the participants? positive moods after the stress task had brought them down, but reading did not. ?These findings provide the first experimental evidence that gardening can promote relief from acute stress,? the study says.
2. It can strengthen your immune system
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More research is demonstrating how playing in the dirt can be good for your health. A study on immunity found evidence to support the notion that exposure to microbes, especially at a young age, helps to strengthen the immune system and prevent diseases. And another study from Johns Hopkins Medicine corroborates those findings. It found that early exposure to dirt, dander and germs can lower a person?s risk of allergies and asthma. Just remember that dirt also might contain bacteria and parasites that can make you sick. So avoid touching your face with dirty hands, and wash them as soon as you?re done gardening.
3. It promotes brain health
Gardening also has the potential to improve your brain health. A study on dementia recruited 2,805 people age 60 and older who had no known cognitive impairments and followed them for 16 years. Ultimately, there were 115 men (out of 1,233) and 170 women (out of 1,572) who developed dementia during that time. But the researchers noted that those who engaged in daily gardening lowered their risk of developing dementia by 36 percent. In comparison, daily walks dropped the dementia risk by 38 percent for men, but interestingly there wasn?t a ?significant prediction? for women.
4. It?s good exercise
Gardening may help you relax, but it?s also a pretty good workout. Cleveland Clinic qualifies gardening as ?moderate? exercise ? akin to walking or riding your bike, depending on the intensity. And research has catalogued several health benefits of gardening, especially for older adults. A study on seniors found daily physical activity, including gardening, cut their risk of a heart attack or stroke by up to 30 percent, as well as prolonged their lives. And another study on gardening and older adults concluded that gardening was an ideal way for seniors to stay in shape. It specifically helped them maintain their hand strength and dexterity. Plus, at any age, caring for something that?s living can be a helpful motivator to get up and move.
5. It helps you eat healthier
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According to Harvard Medical School, gardening can play a helpful role in maintaining a healthy diet. Just by the nature of what you grow, it can lead you to eat more fruits and vegetables. You also can prevent unhealthy fertilizers and pesticides from getting in your food. And you get to enjoy the benefits of freshly picked produce. ?Vegetables that ripen in the garden have more nutrients than some store-bought vegetables that must be picked early,? Harvard Medical School says. Plus, a study on gardening and diets found people who gardened when they were children were likely to eat more fruits and vegetables later in life. So put those little green thumbs to work.
6. It can be a positive social activity
Social interaction is important for your health and well-being in many ways. ?Adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of many significant health problems, including depression, high blood pressure and an unhealthy body mass index,? Mayo Clinic says. Plus, a social group can give you a sense of belonging, help you cope with trauma and encourage you to make positive choices. And if you?re an avid gardener, working in a community garden might be the perfect fit. One study found people participating in community gardens had significantly lower BMIs ? as well as a lower risk of becoming overweight or obese ? than others in their neighborhoods who didn?t garden. The researchers also found some of the benefits extended to the gardeners? families, as well.
7. It exposes you to vitamin D
We all need vitamin D ? from the sun and our diets ? to keep our bodies healthy. And though it?s important to be careful about exposing your skin to the sun, gardening still is a prime way to keep your vitamin D at an optimal level. A study on vitamin D deficiency found regular gardening (as well as outdoor cycling) lowered the likelihood that older adults ? whose skin often has more trouble synthesizing vitamin D ? would become deficient. Interestingly, people who engaged in brisk outdoor walks did not experience the same benefit.
8. It?s eco-friendly
Tending to a home garden can be an eco-friendly activity and help to combat climate change. And a healthier planet means better health for all of us. A guide from the National Wildlife Federation offers several tips on environmentally friendly gardening. For instance, it recommends trading your gas-powered lawn tools for electric- or human-powered ones.?Stay away from fertilizers and lawn chemicals?to help prevent water pollution. Plus, be conscientious about what you plant. ?Gardeners can play an important role in minimizing the threat of invasive species expansion by removing invasive plants from the garden and choosing an array of native alternatives,? the National Wildlife Federation says.
9. It gives you a sense of purpose
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Regardless of whether you have a single plant or an entire field, gardening is an ongoing responsibility. And that can give you a sense of purpose and nourish your spirit. Just ask NASA. To combat feelings of isolation, lower stress and break up monotony, NASA’s Human Research Program has experimented with astronauts growing plants in space. ?The countermeasure to sensory monotony is sensory stimulation,? according to NASA. ?Working with plants provides astronauts visual, tactile and olfactory stimulation, and eventually even salivary stimulation with fresh foods and variety.? And even astronauts ? whose job already is out-of-this-world ? found significant meaning in the work. ?Several astronauts agree that the ability to watch plants grow, and to play a part in their growth, provides a strong connection to something bigger than their immediate surroundings,? NASA says.
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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.