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There is increasing evidence that gardening and exposure to green spaces are beneficial for mental and physical health. This could help alleviate pressure on NHS services.
Besides restoring dexterity and strength, digging and raking burn calories at a rate comparable to running or playing badminton. This activity is also social, satisfying psychological needs.
Gardening and Health
The benefits of gardening go far beyond providing a fresh supply of vegetables. Gardening is associated with improved health and wellbeing in both the body and mind. This is backed up by scientific research and is one of the reasons why gardens are such popular leisure activities, even in this age of digital distractions.
Studies have shown that gardening reduces stress and depression and increases social functioning and cognitive function. It has also been linked to a better diet, including eating more fruit and vegetables. Moreover, gardening is an activity that people can do together as a family or community, which builds connections and can boost mental health, particularly in older adults.
There is a strong relationship between the soil and the body – beneficial microbes in the soil can help to regulate mood, so the more time you spend digging and planting in your garden, the happier you will feel! This is a great way to practice mindfulness and disconnect from the day-to-day stresses of life.
In addition to the physical and emotional benefits, gardening can have a positive environmental impact as well. For example, planting flowers and shrubs in your garden can attract pollinators such as bees and birds, and can make a home for small insects, skinks, lizards and snakes, which are all beneficial in their own ways. Gardening can even have a political dimension as it is used to express personal views and beliefs about the world. For example, in the famous Canadian Charter of Rights case, Sandra Bell vs City of Toronto, it was upheld that the right to cultivate native species, even those viewed as weeds, is a fundamental liberty.
However, it is important to note that gardening can be physically demanding on the body and so it’s a good idea to warm up with some light stretches and take regular breaks. Also, if you have back problems, consider gardening in a raised bed to minimise bending. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories can be taken if needed to ease any soreness. In fact, gardening can be so beneficial to health that it has been dubbed “horticultural therapy”, and is often used in addiction recovery programmes.
Gardening and Mental Health
Gardening has a direct impact on our health. Physical inactivity is a major contributor to many health problems, and gardening provides a wonderful opportunity to get out of the house and move around. Gardening is also a great exercise that helps to strengthen the body. Bending, stretching, crouching and twisting are all part of the act of pulling weeds, and this type of activity is very good for the joints in the body. It also helps to stimulate the brain, and has been shown to improve mental health and cognitive function. One study found that individuals participating in horticultural therapy saw improvements in their depression, life satisfaction and cognitive function, which continued to improve after the therapy had ended.
Gardening is a great way to relax and enjoy the outdoors, but it also provides a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. Creating something from nothing can be very gratifying, and seeing the plants grow and thrive is a very satisfying experience. Even children can find joy in gardening, and they learn valuable lessons about patience, perseverance and responsibility as they watch their efforts come to fruition.
It has also been reported that people who live near green spaces such as parks and gardens are generally healthier than those who do not. This may be because of the stress-reduction and mood-boosting benefits that are associated with this type of environment. Gardening has the added benefit of providing an enjoyable and wholesome way to spend time with family and friends, which further contributes to wellbeing.
Studies have also found that a garden has the potential to be an important community resource for those living below the poverty line, and can offer a source of nutrition as well as social interaction. This is because community gardening offers a unique opportunity to bring people together in a shared pursuit of a common goal, and can be a powerful antidote to loneliness and isolation.
While past research has focused on the positive effects of gardening on people who have a variety of medical or psychological issues, it is also becoming clear that healthy people can reap the same benefits from the practice. This is because you don’t need a large piece of land to grow things like herbs and flowers in containers, or even a window box. In fact, a recent study found that healthy adults who participated in twice-weekly gardening classes experienced lower levels of anxiety and depression than those who did not.
Gardening and Wellbeing
Gardening has been found to provide personal well-being and health benefits. For some it is a form of meditation, an opportunity to be alone with themselves or with their plants and a way of de-stressing. For others it is a social activity and the sense of achievement of growing their own food, flowers or plants brings them satisfaction and a feeling of fulfilment. It also provides a welcome break from the ever-present use of technology in our lives. Researchers in the field of mental health are now beginning to understand the importance of connecting people with nature and reintroducing gardening as a way of being able to do this, particularly for those who have experienced poor mental health.
Studies have shown that people who regularly garden experience improved life satisfaction, a sense of purpose and wellbeing, reduced stress, anxiety and depression and increased self-esteem and positive moods, as well as improved cognitive and emotional functioning in children and adolescents . For older adults, gardening has been reported to provide the same benefits, but with additional enhancements of social interaction, enjoyment and quality of life .
It’s not just about mental health though, being active is important for physical wellbeing too. Gardening is a great way to exercise as it requires the body to be used in many different ways. You can also get some sun, which is good for vitamin D and is linked to improved moods. Putting your hands in the dirt can even help to reduce arthritis pain by strengthening the muscles in the joints, and studies have shown that it can also delay dementia symptoms.
Despite these many health benefits, there are risks of framing community gardening as a ‘health intervention’ that seeks to medicalise the practice and ignore its richness. This can lead to disenchantment within community gardening organisations and a perception that the benefits are being exploited for financial gain. In the long run, it can damage the sustainability of these valuable community resources. This is why it is essential to recognise the value of community gardens as more than just a space for growing vegetables and that their role goes far beyond ‘green social prescribing’.
Gardening and Music
Music and gardens have an interesting relationship. A garden’s rhythm is akin to musical notes and the spaces between them, while its style and cadence are similar to an orchestral score. A garden’s tempo is also comparable to a beat, and its progression can be compared to a song’s lyrics.
Garden imagery has often been used to express a range of ideas and emotions. The 1992 song Atomic Garden by Bad Religion criticizes modern industrialization and imperialism, which appear to be destroying the natural paradise of the world. It is a clear reference to the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden. It is a place of happiness and prosperity, but it requires hard work and healthy soil in order to thrive.
Like music, gardening also requires a lot of physical energy. In fact, it offers a healthy outlet for kids to channel some of their excess energy, which can otherwise lead to rough play and unruly behaviour. It is no wonder that so many children enjoy gardening as a hobby, and that it has become a popular activity in schools.
The garden can be used as a metaphor for many aspects of life, including relationships and jobs. In John Denver’s 1979 track Garden Song, the narrator talks about a new love being “like a garden” with the same ups and downs as a flowering shrub. He says that he will work at it inch by inch, row by row, just to see it grow.
In a similar vein, Emeli Sande’s 2014 song Safe in My Garden is a tribute to her ex-husband and their relationship. The song refers to the difficulty of starting over, but also to the joy of being in a loving, healthy, private space. The garden is seen as a safe haven, reminiscent of the Biblical Garden of Eden, and is where she can feel free and happy.
It is important for garden work to be lifted into a higher plane of educational value than the purely utilitarian aspect that it has so far achieved in school teaching. It should not be merely an adjunct to the subject of woodwork, or a method of relieving the monotony of other lessons by the infusion of gardening.
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