Giving Your Green Thumb a Workout: Five Ways That Gardening Can Help Your Health

Do you have a green thumb?

Working with plants outdoors can offer some pretty remarkable health benefits, whether you’re a passionate gardener or you’re just getting started for the first time.

Tending to your garden is a great way to get physically active, relieve stress, interact with nature, and stock your fridge with healthful fruits and veggies. Even better? You’ll see these wellness benefits whether your garden is a bounteous backyard vegetable patch, or even a small planter on your balcony or patio.

Curious about all the ways gardening sows the seeds for better health? Here are five big ways gardening can have a positive effect on your health and happiness:

1.) Gardening Is a Great Way to Get Active

Gardening is fun and relaxing. And as you really get into it—pulling weeds, pruning leaves, and carrying buckets of soil from place to place—you may not even notice how much you’re working up a sweat.

Working in the garden is a great way to get in aerobic exercise, particularly for those who may have more limited mobility. It is usually classified as a moderate physical activity, which offers “all-around physical benefits in terms of cardiovascular, muscle, and bone health,” according to Melissa Roti, director of the exercise-science program at Westfield State University.

One prominent study out of Sweden actually found that regular gardening was enough to help older adults reduce their risk of a heart attack or stroke, and “prolong life by as much as 30 percent.” In addition to helping your heart, gardening is a great way to stretch out, and even squeeze in some light strength training. Research from Kansas State University, for instance, has shown that gardening can help increase range of motion and increase strength and dexterity.

Bright yellow flowers in a garden.

2.) Working With Plants Can Help Relieve Stress and Anxiety

Many people will tell you that cultivating a garden, seeing plants bloom, and digging their fingers into the earth has an almost-therapeutic feeling. And, as it turns out, over the years, research has shown that gardening can be a great way to relieve stress, treat symptoms of depression and anxiety, and boost self-esteem.

For example? One famous Dutch study followed two groups of people, both told to complete a stressful task. After that stressful event, one group was told to garden outdoors for half an hour, while the other group stayed inside and read. Afterward, the gardening group reported having better moods overall. What’s more, their blood tests showed significantly lower levels of cortisol, a hormone commonly associated with stress. In other cases, research has shown that gardening can lead to higher levels self-esteem and happiness in older adults.

What makes gardening so calming? As the Earth Easy blog points out, the mental health benefits of gardening probably come from “a combination” of many sources at once, including “physical activity, awareness of natural surroundings, cognitive stimulation, and the satisfaction of the work.”

Indeed, research has shown that just getting out into nature can have remarkably healthy benefits. Research from the UK has actually demonstrated that soil may contain “a friendly bacteria,” which affects our brains like antidepressants. Playing around in dirt may help release serotonin, a hormone commonly associated with happiness. And even seeing the natural world might be enough to give us all a little lift. One famous study followed two groups recovering from surgery; one spent their recovery time with only a brick wall for a view, while the other got to see green trees from their windows. The group exposed to nature healed faster, with fewer complications overall, according to a report from Scientific American.

3.) It’s a Great Activity for People of All Ages

Gardening is a great activity for all people, from age 8 to 88. Because gardening is a relatively low-impact activity, it is a great fit for older adults, and the AARP recommends it for seniors because of the “variety of health benefits” it can offer.

For example, gardening has been shown to help older adults maintain their hand strength and motor skills. At the same time, gardening can be a remarkably powerful tool in helping seniors combat dementia and cognitive decline. According to the AARP, one 2006 study showed that regular gardening could help reduce the incidence of dementia in seniors by 36 percent.

Meanwhile, as the AARP points out, gardening can be a great way to promote social activity among older adults. Whether working in a community garden, taking classes, or simply chatting with passersby on the front sidewalk, gardening is a great way to get older adults out of the house and interacting with others. Staying social can have remarkable health benefits for seniors, including increasing longevity and minimizing the risk for chronic illness.  

Similarly, gardening can be a great way to connect the generations. It’s a great way to bring children and adults together, to work for a common goal and build up a lifelong passion for nature. Gardening offers the same physical benefits to young people as it does to adults, and research has shown that interacting with nature can have incredibly positive effects on young adults. In fact, guidelines from the National Wildlife Federation suggest that getting active outdoors, for even an hour a day, can offer children health benefits including “reducing stress, improving sleep, and even reducing ADHD symptoms.”

4.) Gardening Can Help You Soak Up Some Much-Needed Vitamin D

Going outside and tending to your garden, even if it’s a simple planter on your balcony or patio, can be a great way to soak in some sun—and some healthy, rejuvenating vitamin D.

Also called the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D is created, in part, by chemical reactions in our body that occur when we’re exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D is incredibly important for our overall health and wellbeing, and has been shown to:

  • Fight disease
  • Boost the immune system
  • Reduce symptoms of depression
  • Improve muscle and bone health
  • Promote weight loss

Despite its numerous health benefits, many people are deficient in vitamin D. Working on a fun hobby outdoors, such as gardening, can help get you a healthy amount of sun exposure, increasing your vitamin D levels. Don’t forget to stay safe; too much time in direct sunlight can cause sunburn and increase your risk for skin cancer. When you’re gardening, be sure to apply your favorite sunscreen or sun protection, wear sunglasses, and consider wearing loose clothing and hats, which can help protect your skin.

A sunny garden with an assortment of flowers and greenery.

5.) Growing Your Own Produce Can Inspire Healthier Eating

When you garden, you get to take charge of what you’re growing, and when—and that includes creating your own bounty of healthful, wholesome produce.

As professor Amy Wagenfeld, author of Therapeutic Gardens: Design for Healing Spacesputs it: “If you grow your own produce, your own herbs, and vegetables, you have more control because you have the opportunity to grow a healthy diet.”

“For people who don’t have ready access to fruits and vegetables,” she continues, “that’s life-altering.”

Growing your own fruits, veggies, and herbs is a great way to add healthful, flavorful produce to your meal prep routine. It doesn’t get much more locally sourced than your own rooftop garden, after all. You know where your plants came from, and how they were treated—including what types of fertilizer or pesticides may have been used.

When you grow some of your own food, you can also switch it up as the seasons change, so you always have access to the superfoods that are going to be freshest, tastiest, and healthiest at different times of the year. From tomatoes, to squash, to peppers, there is no shortage of healthy foods you can cultivate and add to your menu, whether you have an expansive backyard garden or just a few hanging baskets on the balcony.

Even better? Having access to freshly grown produce may be a great way to help little ones eat their vegetables. Studies have shown that the more children are involved in growing and preparing their own food, the more likely they are to eat it. So, spending some time watering the garden together could just be what it takes to help your picky eater finally expand their tastes.

We’d Love to Hear From You

Here at the Enrollment Specialists, we’re not just your go-to health insurance superheroes,  we’re your go-to resource for all things health and wellness.

What do you love about gardening? Do you have any tips, tricks, or secrets you’d love to share? To keep the conversation going, be sure to join our community of wellness lovers over on Facebook.

Gardening can help you stay active and fit for years, and it’s important to find the health insurance plan to match. From group health plans to Medicare Supplements, the Enrollment Specialists can help you find the plan that will work for you. We’re here to be your healthcare advocates for the entire life of your plan—and all at absolutely no cost to you. Want to see what a difference it makes when you can say, “I Got A Guy” for all things health insurance? Drop us a line to get started today.

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