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” – whether achieved through a walk in the park, a day at the beach or even gardening – goes beyond something that our human nature craves. It also proves 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 that a connection to nature may not only help people heal faster, but actually avoid diseases and stay healthy. This has resulted in doctors prescribing what has become known as “horticultural therapy.” The act of physical activity and awareness of natural surroundings, which produces both cognitive and physical stimulation, along with the satisfaction of the work accomplished while gardening is a recipe for good health, regardless of age; today, it is recommended 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 are either exacerbated or reduced 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 and has become known as a silent killer.
The Center for Disease Control recommends a minimum of 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity per week for adults, a number that can be easily reached as you water, weed, plant and harvest. (Gardening also serves as a great alternative to high impact sports or exercise.) The constant movement needed in the garden also promotes dexterity and hand strength. Gardening has even been used 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 the act of gardening a healthy practice, but you’ll also have access to freshly picked organic fruits and vegetables, packed 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