The pace of modern life can sometimes feel a little unrelenting, so it’s hardly surprising that over half a million Britons are living with some kind of long-term stress or anxiety disorder – and that’s just the cases related to the workplace. In a world that simply refuses to stop turning and continues to demand more and more from us all, it’s important that we have a place to relax and unwind.
If you are lucky enough to live in a home that provides its own garden or green space, this sense of tranquility is easier to obtain that you may realise – if you know how to embrace the stress-busting qualities of gardening. Throughout this guide, we will discuss how time spent in the garden can greatly enhance your physical and mental health. Take a deep breath, look longingly at that luscious lawn that you have spent a great deal of time lovingly cultivating, and prepare yourself for a new life devoid of anxiety!
What are the Health Benefits of Gardening?
It’s no secret that physical activity reduces the symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression, but many of us simply struggle to find the time to fit regular workouts into our busy schedules.
The good news is that you no longer need hurriedly stroll past the gym with your head down, guilty at the money you are spending on a membership that is never used – gardening is one of the greatest physical workouts that anybody can experience. The NHS recommends around 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week alongside some high-intensity muscle work, and the simple pleasures of time spent in the garden can contribute to a great many of these minutes.
Every element of time spent in the garden, even simply taking a leisurely stroll and watering the plants, burns calories – and the more time you spend cultivating your green space, the more exercise you’ll be providing your body with. What’s more, gardening tends to be a full-body workout that ensures every muscle is flexed and employed.
Pushing the lawnmower into those stubborn corners, and shifting wheelbarrows filled with soil and manure, can be great for your upper body strength and your thighs. Regularly getting down on your hands and knees to dig into soil will keep your joints supple and lubricated (as well as strengthening your back), and keep your fingers nimble to prevent the risk of arthritis and associated conditions later in life. Regular bursts of any kind of garden exercise will also do your heart the world of good as you raise, and increase your rate of cardio without the need to jog through the streets and pump the pedals of an exercise bike. Older people will also benefit hugely from a regular potter around the garden in their wellies, as this will increase their inner equilibrium and sense of balance, drastically reducing the risk of falls elsewhere around the home or in public.
Perhaps best of all, you can also invest in some garden furniture and enjoy a rest break between jobs. The surroundings of your own garden will be altogether more enjoyable and relaxing than listening to the grunts and strains of gym bunnies while you try to take five and catch up on your newspaper!
Growing Your Own Food
An apple a day keeps the doctor away, and if you can top that up with even more fresh fruit and vegetables you’re really on the fast track to a healthy lifestyle. Rather than nipping to the supermarket multiple times per week to continually refresh your supplies, however, why not consider growing your own food in your garden and becoming self-sufficient? You’ll save money, get to spend time outdoors exercising, and enjoy all the benefits of healthy eating that come from a diet rich in fresh ingredients. Forget those ready meals, and turn your hand to scratch cooking instead!
If you don’t know where to start with such a project, don’t panic – there is bags of literature on the subject available online and in any good bookshop. You’ll need to careful about which pesticides you use in order to deter garden pests, and ensure that there is plenty of natural sunlight for at least six hours per day to help the edible produce grow to its full potential, but beyond this the world is your oyster. Start small and grow a handful of things that you know that you eat regularly (possibly popular side dishes such as potatoes, or fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers) and build your self-grown food empire from there!
Of course, the biggest benefit of growing your own food is that you know exactly where it came from, and can be assured that no potentially harmful additives or preservatives have been applied. Sure, you can buy organic produce from the supermarket but that is an extremely expensive lifestyle to maintain. Why pay somebody else a premium to grow your food for you, and enjoy all of the health benefits that come with spending time in the garden, when you could do it yourself?
Exposure to Bacteria
We’re pre-conditioned to fear and avoid bacteria at all costs – after all, it’s a primary contributor to common complaints and ailments such as head colds. Surely, however, this is a reason to increase our exposure to the bacteria that can be found in the garden? Doing so will enhance our natural immunity against foreign bodies that may make us fall ill and ensure that we can spend more time in our gardens, and less time blowing our noses under a pile of blankets.
Although there are undoubtedly a handful of unpleasant diseases and conditions that can be caught while enjoying time outdoors, these are easily avoided with a little education and due diligence. Contrary to everything that you may have been taught, getting your hands dirty is actually a good thing. The more soil that gets under your fingernails, the more you are exposing yourself to bacteria – and the more bacteria you expose yourself to, the harder it will be for them to invade your body and leave you feeling unwell.
If you have young members in your family, get them involved in the gardening as early as possible too – possibly even in utero, as pregnant women can greatly benefit their baby by spending time outdoors. The immune system is like a muscle that can be trained and built up, and early exposure will leave children less likely to develop respiratory conditions such as asthma as they grow up.
Of course, it’s still possible to benefit from the great outdoors even if you’re not tackling flowers and growing your own food. Just taking a seat outdoors and breathing in the fresh air can do your lungs the world of good. If you have it in you to get involved in the gardening process, however, then do so – you’ll feel fantastic for it!
Vitamin D Exposure
Spending time outdoors provides great chances to enjoy the rays of the sun (just don’t forget to apply lotion in the heat of the summer), and that comes with a whole range of health benefits. This is due to the sun filling our bodies with Vitamin D, which does us the world of the good. Next time you take a look at your pet and find them basking in the sun, take a leaf out of their book – cats and dogs fully understand how great they feel when they allow their bodies to flood with Vitamin D!
Despite the name, Vitamin D is actually a hormone that’s found within the body rather than an external vitamin that must be consumed through supplements. Our bodies generate Vitamin D as a chemical reaction as soon as sun bounces off our skin, and the benefits provided by this interaction are legion.
The most important service that Vitamin D provides is the growth of calcium within the body, which is obviously essential to people of all ages to keep bones and teeth strong and healthy. The benefits do not end here, however, as Vitamin D also further bolsters the immune system, regulates the flow of insulin throughout the body and thus drastically reduces the risk of developing a condition such as diabetes, keeps the heart and lungs healthy, and even reduces the risk of cancer. Perhaps most importantly for the purposes of this guide, however, Vitamin D is also a great way to enhance your internal feel-good factor; it’s a known relief for stress, anxiety and depression.
Scientists have described Vitamin D deficiency as a global epidemic, which is unfortunate as it’s so easily resolved – sunshine is free, after all. Get out into the garden and tend to your flowerbeds, or take a seat in a comfortable bench and let the sun’s rays beat down upon you. Either way, just enjoy some time in nature and you’ll be boosted in body and mind in no time at all.
Why Does Gardening Relieve Stress?
Have you ever attempted to sketch, paint, craft or write? If so, you’ll know that creativity – regardless of your level of skill – can be a proven stress-buster. In just 45 minutes you can significantly reduce your levels of cortisol (we’ll explain more on why this is a good thing shortly) by embracing your inner artiste, and what could possibly be more creative that developing your own personal oasis and private garden tailored to your own wishes? It’s an opportunity to really turn your hand to something that belongs to you, and fill your heart with satisfaction at watching something you have devised come to life.
There are few things more satisfying that taking an idea and turning it into a reality, and your garden will be the perfect place to do so. You don’t need to be a professional landscaper; just an individual with a vision, and the willingness to step up to plate and turn that dream into a reality. Start with a comparatively empty and barren green space, and decide how you’d like to add colour and impact, apply some furniture to make it a truly serene space where you can relax, and voila! You have all the makings of a peaceful mind.
Naturally you don’t need to focus your creative energies on the gardening itself if you don’t wish to (though we cannot think of any reason why that would be the case – have you forgotten all of those health benefits that we discussed already?) – you can always pitch up an easel and sketch or paint the beautiful scene that’s before you, or take a notepad and turn your hand to poetry or a short story. All that matters, in the grand scheme of things, is that you spend time outside embracing your creative side. If you can bring yourself to get a little dirt under your nails while you’re doing so, then so much the better.
Mental Focus and Mindfulness
Mindfulness is an increasingly popular way of combatting the stress and anxiety that is such a part of the modern world. While it is still largely considered a spiritual exercise, banish any thoughts of orange robes and chanting form your mind – mindfulness is actually a science, designed to prevent our busy brains from overwhelming us and blocking us from enjoying the little moments of calm that we all deserve. Can you think of a better space than a garden for such an activity?
The idea behind mindfulness is simplicity itself – simply be. Picture the scene; you’re in your garden, the sun is shining gently upon your face, there’s a gentle breeze blowing around you, you close your eyes and open them to be greeted by the beautiful sights of what you have created… sounds pretty appealing, right? It’s a moment to simply exist, and concentrate on your breathing. Feel that tension in your shoulders slip away as though it was never there in the first place. Stop to smell the flowers, to coin a phrase.
Naturally, sitting still and doing nothing is not for everybody – and you can still embrace mindfulness by being physically active in the garden. As we have mentioned, it’s all about living for the moment, and you can do just that while planting, weeding, mowing the lawn. You’ll probably never struggle to find something to do in the garden, and while you’re concentrating on the task at hand all unwelcome, stressful thoughts will be banished from your mind.
While you’re pulling at that weed – giving your body a workout in the process – you won’t be thinking about the fact that you still haven’t posted your sister’s birthday card, the fact that rent is due in a week and you missed a week’s work, or that your car makes a strange rattling noise every time you start the engine. That is the very core of mindfulness, and another example of just why a well-tended and beloved garden can hugely benefit your mental health.
Reduction of Cortisol
We touched upon the importance of reducing cortisol in the body while we discussed creativity, but there is no denying that garden can also have a huge positive influence on this process.
Cortisol is a hormone produced by the body in times of stress. It’s responsible for all the symptoms that we associate with the condition, such sweaty palms, elevated heart rate, irritability and muddy thinking. If you can think of an unpleasant physical sensation, you can blame it on cortisol, and as a result we could all do without keeping it at bay. Respected journal Psychology Today has gone as far as to describe cortisol as public enemy number one when it comes to mental health concerns, which should give some indication as to what a problem it can be!
If left unchecked, cortisol can cause all kinds of physical issues such as weight gain and heart conditions, but it has just as big an impact on our mental faculties. Not only are we left feeling unable to think straight when we are stressed, but cortisol is also intrinsically linked to depression.
When we spent time outside in our gardens, we regulate our emotions are more efficiently that we would if cooped up indoors. Part of that is down to the Vitamin D that we have previously described, partly down to the fact that we are engaging in mindfulness and thus not allowing our minds to wander to unwelcome thoughts, and partly because we are engaging in a physical workout – whether we’re conscious of this or not.
Under separate cover we have discussed just how important all of these steps are reducing stress, and the role that garden can play in them. Combine them and you have a way of reducing the levels of cortisol that flow around your body, and prevent the hormone from gaining any kind of stranglehold over the way that we feel.
If only take one thing from this guide, please let it be this sub-heading; acknowledge the science behind gardening as a stress release, and embrace everything that this wonderful pastime has to offer.
If you still need a little further convincing that spending time in the garden is a great way to relax and boost your mental health, check out this article that suggests that just looking at a well-tended garden is good for the soul.
Now, it’s over to you. Are you ready to embrace your green thumb and enjoy some time in the garden, reaping all of these health benefits to your body and mind in the process? Follow some of these general lifestyle tips, restock your garden furniture to create your own private oasis, and enjoy everything that nature has to offer – all without leaving the comfort of your own home. Banish that unwelcome stress today, and get out into nature!