10 Reasons Why Gardening Is Good for You, According to Science
Gardening works wonders for the body and mind. Discover science-backed ways gardening can improve your health and well-being.
Gardening has been part of human life for millennia. While our ancestors relied on cultivating the earth for food and survival, many of us in this modern age have embraced home gardening as a cherished pastime. But do you harvest more than just fresh, delicious vegetables and colorful, fragrant blooms from your home garden? According to scientific research, gardening provides you with a bounty of health benefits, too. Read on to find out 10 science-backed ways gardening is good for you.
1. Cognitive stimulation
Research shows that gardening is good for your brain health. A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health measured the levels of brain nerve growth factors in the blood of subjects before and after they did 20 minutes of gardening activity in a vegetable patch, such as digging, fertilizing, raking, planting, or watering. They found that levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor and platelet-derived growth factor were significantly increased after gardening. This indicates that gardening may be beneficial for memory improvement.
2. Stress reduction
Ask any avid gardener where their happy place is, and they’ll likely say it’s their beloved flower or vegetable patch. But claims that gardening relieves stress are not just anecdotal. Numerous studies have linked stress reduction to gardening and other activities spent in nature. For example, a 2011 study’s findings demonstrated that time spent gardening can result in lowered cortisol levels and restored positive mood, indicating that gardening can provide relief from acute stress.
What our mothers told us is true—veggies are good for us! Eating 5 to 10 servings of fruit and vegetables per day helps reduce the risk of disease and death. Fruit and vegetable gardening can be a wonderful way to increase our intake of healthy foods. A 2021 study found that school-based gardening activities and programs positively impacted children’s diets and promoted increased vegetable intake, leading to improved nutrition.
4. Improved mood
From physical activity to fresh air to beautiful scents and calming sights, gardening provides a combination of activities and sensory signals that form a therapeutic and nurturing environment, which can improve mood and reduce anxiety and depression. A meta-analysis conducted in 2017 studied the health outcomes of gardening activities and found that gardening was beneficial for reducing the severity of depressed mood, anxiety, and stress.
5. Immune system support
While indoor gardening also boasts benefits, spending time in the garden outside lets you enjoy fresh air and catch some rays. When we are exposed to sunlight, our skin produces vitamin D, a key nutrient for maintaining a healthy immune system. Hower, not only does sunlight help provide vitamin D, it may also help you fight infection. According to a study published in Scientific Reports, light exposure can increase the movement of T cells, our body’s defense cells, enabling them to navigate the body more effectively. Just remember that when it comes to sunlight, too much is harmful. When gardening, be sure to practice sun safety by avoiding overexposure to the sun’s UV rays.
6. Physical activity
Gardening isn’t a passive activity. The active movements involved in gardening—like bending, lifting, digging, and pulling—promote strength, balance, and flexibility. A 2011 study determined that gardening tasks provide as much exercise as other moderate-intensity physical activities, leading to increased physical fitness in older adults. Additionally, a study published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity found that taking part in gardening can reduce falls among older adults.
7. Enhanced attention and focus
Watching plants develop gradually, on their own time, is a mindful practice that takes patience and can improve our attentional performance. Moreover, there’s evidence that even the properties of soil can help to enhance our attention and focus. A 2022 study found that the attention and cognitive performance of participants significantly improved after sowing seeds in soil that contains Streptomyces rimosus, a beneficial bacteria commonly found in soil.
8. Positive body image
Some gardening benefits may not be so obvious. Case in point: increased respect and appreciation for your body and its functions. An interesting study published in Ecopsychology in 2020 explored how allotment gardening and exposure to natural environments can affect positive body image, which is tied to psychological well-being and physical resilience. The study found that spending time gardening resulted in improved body satisfaction and that gardeners had significantly higher positive body image than non-gardeners.
9. Social interaction
While some may love the quiet and solitude of a private home garden, gardening doesn’t have to be a solo activity. From community gardens to gardening clubs to garden-based events, gardening can offer many opportunities for community engagement and social connection. Scott et al. looked at how gardening activities can relate to positive aging in older adults and found that gardening activities promote social engagement and help people connect with fellow gardeners and form meaningful relationships. This can foster a sense of belonging and reduce social isolation.
10. Illness recovery
Therapeutic gardening, also known as horticulture therapy, is treatment that uses plants and garden-related activities to help patients recover from illness and improve their physical and mental health. Research shows that gardening as therapy provides benefits to a wide range of patients, including those with mental illness, chronic pain, addiction, and other illnesses, such as stroke. A 2016 paper revealed that post-stroke patients who engaged in gardening activities enhanced their engagement in the rehabilitation process and boosted their motivation and overall well-being.