Gardening: Just what the Doctor Ordered!
Gardening is good for your health, well-being and happiness. According to the experts, the pastime can keep both your mind and your body healthy, so make the most of the summer months and head for the garden.
© Jacob Lund / Adobe Stock
Studies have revealed that gardening offers extensive mental health benefits. It can reduce anxiety, depression and stress and can combat high blood pressure, while enhancing your overall physical fitness. Medical experts agree gardening is beneficial – but just what is it about pottering about in the garden that’s so calming?
Connect with nature
When we live a hectic life in a busy urban environment, especially where we’re working indoors with technology, we need to reconnect with nature to bring back a sense of peace and well-being. Studies show that spending time in the garden helps people to de-stress and feel at one with the world.
The feeling of self-absorption that can grow while working in a busy environment can lead to poorer mental health. Gardening can dissipate these feelings and help us to feel more relaxed.
In addition, cultivating plants gives us a sense of responsibility, prompting a sense of purpose because if we don’t care for the plants, in terms of watering, pruning and otherwise cultivating them, they will suffer. For anyone who has mental health issues, doctors agree the responsibility and subsequent sense of worth is beneficial.
For people who have paranoia or anxiety, going out into a social situation can be challenging. On the other hand, in the garden, there’s no one to judge, so you can simply nurture and care for the plants in a tranquil environment. This can improve your confidence and self-esteem.
You don’t need to work out at the gym to get fit. A three to four-hour session of gardening can burn the same number of calories as an hour of strenuous exercise at the gym. As well as the physical benefits, exercise releases “happy hormones” – the endorphins that make us feel relaxed and satisfied.
Regular exercise can help us to sleep better and promote weight-loss, both of which make us feel better. Whether you’re weeding, planting, lawn-mowing or pruning, focus your mind on the task in hand and leave your worries behind.
Concentrating hard on physical tasks gives our mind a break from worrying about the things that get us down, encouraging us to live in the moment. We can get in-tune with the seasonal changes in our garden, where the marvellous sights, such as the freshly blooming flowers, make us appreciate life in general.
If you’re feeling frustrated after a bad day at work, pick up your garden shears and start cutting back the brambles, or grab a shovel and start digging! As a great physical exercise to let off steam, it is mentally therapeutic.
The garden is one place where you can feel in control, instead of feeling like you have no say in anything – as you might feel in the workplace.
Feel Good Garden
In 2018, the Royal Horticultural Society recognised the importance of gardening in alleviating health issues by launching its Feel Good Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show. It was designed by celebrity gardener Matt Keightley as the result of a collaboration between the RHS and the National Health Service to mark the 70th birthday of the NHS.
Aimed at promoting gardens, gardening and green spaces for being beneficial for health, happiness and well-being, it combined a mixture of evergreen mounds, vibrant perennials and a selection of honey locust, providing a therapeutic space where people could pause for reflection.
It was also aimed at improving public awareness of how gardens and gardening can improve our health. Rap star Professor Green officially opened the garden and said he knew how hopeless everything could seem when battling anxiety and depression.
He said he loved his own garden and believed everyone would feel better if they spent more time getting close to nature, escaping from mobile phones and the general pressure of everyday life. Professor Green has publicly revealed his struggles with depression and anxiety during his adult life and is happy to add his voice to the growing body of support for therapeutic gardening.
Another well-known figure who has spoken of the comforting effects of the garden is celebrity gardener, broadcaster, writer and farmer Monty Don. He has written of his battle against depression since he was 25, also struggling against Seasonal Affective Disorder, which causes people to become depressed when there’s a lack of sunlight, particularly in the winter months.
He says when you’re feeling “defeated or humiliated”, a garden can “console” you. Don believes that when you’re feeling overcome by anxiety, the garden soothes you and can shine a light on you when the world feels like a “dark and bleak place”.
Some charities are tapping into the healing effects of gardening, including the Sydenham Garden Charity Trust in London. The small patch of green space in the capital was set up to help people suffering from depression. GPs refer patients to the charity to alleviate their depression.
It is known as “green therapy”, when patients spend a few hours a week tending the garden, supported by a team of experienced volunteers. People who tend the garden describe it as an “oasis of calm”. It is one of 1,500 UK organisations who have signed up to the Growing Health national initiative.
Between 2017 and 2018, the Sydenham Garden project received 313 patient referrals from the medical profession. Statistics have shown that they scored low on the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (the yardstick used to measure people’s mental health) before their green therapy. Their score improved significantly after completing a course of gardening sessions.
Growing Health has carried out research into the benefits of green spaces and has found that even looking at greenery through a window can help people to relax, while the physical activity of gardening reduces stress levels and improves mental well-being.
When you’re a keen gardener who enjoys spending time tending your blooms, don’t let the experience end when you return indoors. Create a smooth transition from the interior and exterior spaces of your home with bi-fold doors, so you can continue to enjoy the garden (and some of the health benefits it brings) from the comfort of your living room.
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