In 1984, biologist Edward O. Wilson introduced the “biophilia hypothesis.” This suggested that humans are innately drawn to connect to nature and other forms of life. It turns out, that feeling of being “one with nature” goes beyond something that our human nature craves. Things like a walk in the park, a day at the beach or even gardening prove beneficial to our health.
In fact, gardening is one of the best ways to stay healthy. Over the past few decades, researchers have developed studies that have been able to identify just how beneficial the act of gardening on a daily basis can be.
Just as Wilson was releasing his “biophilia hypothesis,” Environmental Psychologist Roger Ulrich published modern medical research demonstrating how surgery patients who had a “leafy green view” in their hospital room healed, on average, a day faster. They also required significantly less pain medication and experienced fewer post-surgical complications than their counterparts who had a view of a brick wall.
Since Ulrich’s groundbreaking research, study after study has proven two things; first, a connection to nature helps people heal faster. But even more than that, it actually helps avoid diseases and stay healthy. In fact, doctors now prescribe “horticultural therapy” as it is now known. These acts of physical activity produce both cognitive and physical stimulation, along with the satisfaction accomplishing work. This makes gardening a recipe for good health, regardless of age. Today, doctors recommend it for everyone from kids to those battling depression; as well as adults over the age of 60 who need exercise.
Keeping the Mind Sharp
Researchers have routinely found that the link between gardening and brain health is an important one. A study found that daily gardening had the largest effect on reducing the risk of dementia (by 36%) compared to other activities such as walking. Gardening combines a number of critical functions including strength, endurance, dexterity, learning, problem solving and sensory awareness; all factors that contribute to healthy brain function.
Reducing Lifestyle Diseases
What do diabetes, stroke and obesity all have in common? They’re all known as lifestyle diseases, which we can either exacerbate or reduce by the way we live our lives. By staying active through physical activity, including activities like gardening, adults over 60 can lower their risk of a stroke or heart attack by up to 30%. Simple actions including standing up helps increase your metabolic rate, compared to sitting which drives it down.
The Center for Disease Control recommends a minimum of 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity per week for adults; a number you can easily reach when you water, weed, plant, and harvest. (Gardening also serves as a great alternative to high impact sports or exercise.) The constant movement of tending a garden also promotes dexterity and hand strength. Gardening now even sees use as a rehabilitative treatment for stroke patients.
Seeing the Light
If you’re out in the garden, chances are you’re basking in the sun’s rays. Even though we know we should maintain healthy sun care practices, including wearing sunscreen and protective clothing, it’s also important to forgo protection for at least 10-20 minutes in the midday sun; this allows our body to produce enough Vitamin D, a vitamin that our bodies are unable to make without the sun’s radiation. Vitamin D has been linked to reducing osteoporosis and even heart disease, but it’s also known as the happy vitamin because of its link to lowering depression.
We now know that Vitamin D can help lower depression, but research has shown that gardening also reduces stress and anxiety (even when it feels like those chipmunks who eat our tomatoes are only adding to it!) In a Dutch study, researchers found that gardening lowered cortisol levels, aka our “stress hormone.” When cortisol stays at a continuous high level, it has been linked to everything from obesity to heart disease.
Gardening has also been found to improve self esteem, possibly due to engaging in problem solving, creative thinking and nurturing. Just think about how proud you’ll feel the first time you harvest a tomato or some peas from your garden!
As spring rolls into summer, it’s not too late to benefit from a garden of your own. Not only is gardening a healthy practice, it also offers freshly picked organic fruits and vegetables; of course, these fresh produce are full of vitamins and nutrients. Just think of tending to your vegetables as a daily multivitamin!
Hero (Top) Feature Image: © Melissa Beveridge / Best of NJ
Additional Images (in Order) Courtesy:
Konstantin Yuganov / Adobe Stock
Melissa Beveridge / Best of NJ