Doctor-prescribed gardening and Forest Bathing may be recent trends, but the notion of gardening for your health to be restored and cured is older than the Grecian garden temples for Aesclepius – the god of healing.
In this article, Fiann Ó Nualláin gives you six reasons to pick up a spade. He covers:
- Specific health enhancing properties of gardening
- Why soil bacteria is good for you
- Why a gardening workout is as good as any
- How to stimulate the production of endorphins and other mood enhancers
With travel restrictions and even the fear of being near others in these turbulent times, a visit to your back yard or front garden has taken on the role of a nature fix, a genuine curative experience. No matter your gardens style, be it modern minimalist masterpiece, a simple lawn and bench, a cottage garden classic with roses and cut flowers, a wildlife haven, a grow your own raised bed wonder or a blank slate ready for your dream design – being in nature is the actuating benefit. Nature is where we are at optimal functioning.
Sunshine. Blue skies release serotonin (the happy hormone) while sunshine gifts vitamin D to not just benefit our teeth, bones and skin but to boost our mood and immune system. The human eye is also most receptive to the colour green, which triggers a response in the sympathetic nervous system, relieving tension in the blood vessels.
Soil bacteria. When we touch soil, planting a plant or weeding out weeds, we come into contact with an array of soil bacteria which helps our immune system stay tuned up and better able to fight off other pathogens. One particular strain known as Mycobacterium vaccae triggers a release of serotonin and boosts immune function; it has been studied as a possible new line of antidepressants.
Physio. Overt and subtle workouts that gardening bring to your week increase fitness levels, in your muscles, bones and organs, as well as boost the immune, respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Even relaxed pace gardening can be a means of aerobic, isometric and isotonic exercise, enhancing strength, endurance and flexibility.
Endorphins. Gardening releases feel-good endorphins which help alleviate stress, trauma, and its side effects. The distraction of gardening, getting lost in the activity, is what psychologists call ‘in the flow’ activity – a state of being as restorative and beneficial as mindfulness and meditation.
Five a day. Gardeners are more likely to eat a wider range of fruit, vegetables, salads and herbs than non-gardeners. Even if the gardener is not engaged in grow your own, s/he usually has an inherent awareness of health and green issues.
Altruism. Gardeners share their knowledge, their spare seeds, their bounty at harvest time or even just the occasional cutting or divided plant. Altruism is known to boost all sorts of positive endorphin and feel good mechanisms, which is sociability in action, which is our way of being a part of the community, of communicating with others, of being a part of the wider tribe and not just small circles. It is these connections that also bolster health and happiness.
Check out Fiann’s latest book, Seeds of Mindfulness published by Ixia Press, ISBN 9780486845388 €12.99