Press your hands into the earth and plant a seed. Eventually, you may end up with a flower or vegetable—and a more relaxed and positive state of mind. When your hands and mind focus on a plant it can give you an outlet from the worries and distractions of your everyday life.
Tending a garden connects you to the natural world and can bring pleasure and a sense of well-being. Burying your hands in soil and watching seedlings grow can awaken your senses, helping to ease depression, anxiety, and tension, says Dr. Keith Lamy, at Austin family practice medicine clinic.
Gardening puts you in touch with the slower, calmer rhythms of nature. When you do, you give your mind a break from electronic devices, multi-tasking, and other activities which can drain your energy.
Research has shown the value of “horticultural therapy” in helping people reduce stress and improve their cognitive function, attention levels, and satisfaction with life. And those benefits can last for months or longer. In particular, people who garden may have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their blood. A better mood can also improve your health in other ways. Stress, for example, can wreak havoc on the mind and body in ways large and small, causing headaches and heart attacks, and exacerbating underlying illnesses. Lower stress levels can positively impact your immune system, blood pressure, heart, and other aspects of your health.
Nursing homes and rehabilitation centers have long used gardens to help residents enjoy nature and cope with agitation, dementia, loneliness, mental illness, and anxiety. Gardening also gets your body moving and offers benefits from aerobic exercise. When you pull weeds and dig in the soil you exercise your arms and legs. That kind of movement–especially if it raises your breathing and heart rates–helps keep your muscles strong.
General gardening is a moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and a good way to stay limber and active. Adults should get at least 2.5 hours each week of such exercise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Regular activity can help you avoid the diseases that sometimes impact inactive people, such as obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Of course, when you’re outside in a garden you may be basking in the sun too. Exposure to the sun helps your body make vitamin D, which helps build healthy bones.
But don’t overdo it. If you’re planning a long session in the heat of the day, you should wear a hat and sunscreen to avoid excessive exposure and the possibility of skin cancer.
Best of all, those tomatoes or carrots you harvest from your yard are usually fresher than what you find in most supermarkets. A healthy diet starts with lots of fresh veggies. And kids who help out in gardens tend to be more open to trying veggies when they grow them themselves.
So grab some seeds, turn a little soil, and start reaping the benefits of your own backyard garden.