1. Introduction to GARDENING FOR HEALTH
What did you get up to at the weekend? If you spent Sunday afternoon in the garden, there’s good news – gardening is beneficial for your health. If you’re not (yet) great with weeding and planting, don’t worry. It’s an easy hobby to pick up and the benefits can be felt by young and old alike.
The following sections will serve as your go-to guide, whether you need a bit of motivation to pick up that shovel and start gardening or you’re wondering how your hobby can support mental wellbeing. We’ve got tips for getting everyone involved in gardening (including children), and advice from the experts on how to make the most of your outdoor space all year round.
The key health benefits of gardening
It’s logical that getting outside in the fresh air and digging holes, amongst all the other lifting and moving, will do wonders for your physical and mental health. But there’s scientific evidence to back it up too. In fact, numerous studies have highlighted the many benefits of nurturing your green fingers. Here are some of the most interesting findings:
- A trail, published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research, reported that exercising with a view of the natural world lowers blood pressure and improves mood and self-esteem – more so than exercising alone. They called it “green exercise.”
- Researchers at the University of Bristol found that bacteria commonly found living in soil may have a positive effect on our mood.
- Contact with nature helps children to develop cognitive, emotional, and behavioural connections to their nearby social and biophysical environments, according to Children and Nature.
The statistics are impressive too:
- Gardening reduces the likelihood of obesity by 62% for men and 46% for women
- 75% of gardeners rate their health as ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’
- There’s a 36% reduction in dementia risk for regular gardeners
- Allotment and home gardeners report lower perceived stress levels – 9.8 and 12, compared to 15.8 for indoor exercisers
- Gardening can reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke by 27%
Ways to get involved with gardening, without your own garden
Don’t panic if you only have a small garden – or you don’t have one at all. There are ways to start gardening, without your own garden, and embrace the same health benefits. These include:
- Community garden schemes. Community-managed projects became popular as a response to a lack of green space. The gardens come in all shapes and sizes, but are typically run by volunteers – find one near you and get involved.
- Reciprocal gardening. Not everyone is interested in gardening and there are plenty of neglected gardens around that need a bit of love and attention. Getting involved in a reciprocal gardening scheme helps both garden owner and gardener.
- Allotments. It’s estimated that, by 2020, 2.6 million households in Britain will be without a private garden. But, in 2011, the government confirmed the future of allotments as secure. You can contact your local council to apply for an allotment near you, or add your name to a waiting list.
- Get involved in the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) It’s Your Neighbourhood campaign. Community groups clean up and ‘green up’ their local environment including churchyards, alleys and green spaces on estates. Find out more here.
Additional reasons to start gardening
The benefits of gardening go beyond just health and include:
- Being close to nature
- Helping the environment by encouraging natural habitats
- Increased independence and responsibility
- Improved attention span
- Solace and relaxation
- Bettering diet by growing your own fruit and veg
- Enjoying the social side
The number of gardeners is slowly increasing (graph 1) – but more could be done. Gardening schemes, for example, aren’t always well-advertised so many people aren’t aware of what’s local to them.
PERCENTAGE OF ADULTS IN ENGLAND REPORTING GARDENING AS A FREE-TIME ACTIVITY 2006/7 TO 2013/14