IT’S TIME to whip out your gardening gloves because not only are digging and weeding great exercise, a good stint of gardening boosts mental health, too.
Recent research carried out by Harvard University found that people living in an area rich in vegetation have improved physical and mental health.
Professor Tim Lang, Centre for Food Policy at City University London, says it’s widely recognised that regular contact with plants, animals and the natural environment can improve our physical health and mental wellbeing. When we grow food and flowers, we’re engaging with the natural world at a pace that provides a welcome antidote to the stresses of modern life.
GPs in London have already started to prescribe gardening time, with the help of Lambeth GP Food Co-operative, which aims to harness the physical and mental therapeutic benefits of gardening while growing more local produce.
1. Soil is an antidepressant
Soil has been found to have similar effects on the brain as antidepressants to lift mood. A study by the University of Bristol and colleagues at University College London looked at how mice exposed to ‘friendly’ bacteria normally found in soil, altered their behaviour in a similar way to that produced by an antidepressant.
When the team looked closely at the brains of mice, they found treatment with the bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae activated a group of neurons that produce the brain chemical serotonin, which regulates mood. Gardeners inhale the bacteria and have physical contact with it. The natural effects of the soil bacteria can be felt for up to three weeks, if the experiments with rats are any indication. Mycobacterium antidepressant microbes in soil are also being investigated for improving cognitive function, Crohn’s disease and even rheumatoid arthritis.
2. It boosts brain health
Gardening exercises your mind as well as your body. It utilises several our brain functions and includes learning, problem solving and sensory awareness, keeping our minds active.
Several studies have shown the benefits of therapeutic gardens for patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s. A study, published in the Psychiatry Investigation, said the benefits of horticultural therapy included a reduction of pain, improvement in attention, lessening of stress and a reduction in falls.
The charity Thrive uses gardening to help people with a range of mental health problems, including soldiers experiencing post-traumatic stress. Its recent research with early-onset dementia patients showed that, over a year, participants’ memory and concentration remained unchanged, but that mood and sociability improved.
3. It incorporates mindfulness
You might feel too busy for mindfulness, but research shows it can have a huge impact on your stress levels, helping to stave off anxiety, slash depression risk, boost productivity and ease insomnia.
Hilda Burke, psychotherapist, says that gardening is an activity that seems to help a lot of people get into a ‘flow’ state. This means that you don’t notice the time passing, aren’t simultaneously thinking over other things, making plans or rehashing the past. As such it helps people both to switch off to other stuff and switch on to the present moment. In other words, to be more mindful.