Green thumbs up

There’s growing evidence that gardening is good for you, in more ways than one.

Words: Emma Wheaton

Many people will agree that keeping a garden is an enjoyable activity – even just sitting in your yard or having a dig around in the dirt feels good.

And while the main objectives of gardening may be to improve your surroundings or to grow your own produce, this outdoor activity is increasingly being recognised as a means of improving health.

Stress less

In a 2011 study undertaken in the Netherlands, researchers found that gardening can relieve stress1. Thirty gardeners were given a stressful task before being split up – half the group were sent outdoors to do some gardening, and the others were instructed to stay indoors and read. The results showed that those who were gardening had significantly reduced levels of the stress-inducing hormone cortisol, and also reported being in better moods than their reading counterparts.

Landscape gardener Matt Leacy, a former co-presenter of Channel Nine television programs Domestic Blitz and Backyard Blitz and now Director of Landart Landscapes, is an advocate of carefully considered outdoor living spaces and believes that gardening offers wellbeing benefits to people of all ages.

“I challenge any adult to not get a ‘pick me up’ from a beautiful garden or a kid to not run or climb a tree; in my opinion, it’s impossible,” he says. “It hits people subconsciously … I am sure that the right garden space will leave most people more energised and inspired.”

Healthy inside and out

When it comes to gardening, mental and physical health go hand in hand. If you consider the activities involved in creating and maintaining a garden – planting, weeding, digging, raking, carrying and moving supplies and new plants – it’s clear that this hobby doubles as a great workout.

Gardening can be a gentle form of exercise for people of any age, improving strength and flexibility and burning about 1,260 kilojoules per hour2 – the equivalent of going for a brisk walk for the same amount of time, only with the added benefit of creating a lasting outdoor space.

As Leacy points out, it’s proven that exercise improves mood, reduces weight and increases energy. “Gardening can be really physical, so it makes sense that all of these things apply,” he says. “Plus, if you grow your own vegies, you get the health benefits of eating well at the same time.”

A garden for all

Leacy and others believe that visualising a garden, making it happen and then maintaining it is, for many people, a rewarding and mood-lifting experience. After all, plants need to be nurtured before a gardener sees the fruits of their labour, which engenders a sense of responsibility and purpose.

It is for this reason, coupled with the sensory stimulation that horticultural activity brings, that there has been a rise in recent years in the incidence of garden beds in aged-care facilities, where residents are increasingly being encouraged to get outdoors and into the garden3.

And the benefits are not confined to adults. Kitchen gardens are now flourishing in many schools and kindergartens as a vehicle to teach children responsibility, how to grow their own food and how to eat and live healthily – all habits that will hopefully grow into a lifelong love of gardening and the many positives it can bring.

Happy digging

If you feel like you may need a healthy boost this spring, it could be the perfect time to get your hands dirty outdoors. Leacy shares his tips for health-conscious budding gardeners:

  1. Grow lots of dark-green vegies and try to eat them every day.
  2. Bend your knees to save your back or build a raised garden bed.
  3. Swap motorised tools for ones that need elbow grease. This will keep up the physical activity and reduce fumes.
  4. Grow an apple tree. An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

References:

  1. Health.com, ‘Why gardening is good for your health’, 8 July 2011 edition.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/07/08/why.gardening.good/index.html
  2. ABC Health and Wellbeing, ‘What moves you: Housework and gardening’ abc.net.au/health/healthyliving/fitness/exerciseguide/stories/2007/06/05/1952728.htm#.Uar5kY61lSU
  3. The Age, ‘A patch of evergreen’, 6 April 2013 theage.com.au/lifestyle/homestyle/a-patch-of-evergreen-20130405-2hbid.html
Information provided in this article is not medical advice and you should consult with your healthcare practitioner. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.