IF there was a pill that not only slashed stress and heart disease, but burned calories, lowered blood pressure and improved the immune system and mental health, there would be a national stampede.
But there’s no need to rush to a pharmacist just yet, as gardening ticks every one of those boxes.
Gardening slashes stress, heart disease, burns calories, lowers blood pressure and improves the immune system and mental health[/caption]
Yesterday marked the official start of spring, when our outdoor spaces really begin to come alive again.
Harvard Medical School has revealed the number of calories burnt from 30 minutes of gardening (162kcals for a person around 11st) is more than from the same amount of time spent doing weightlifting (108kcal), water aerobics (144kcal), badminton (141kcal) or volleyball (108kcal).
There’s even an antidepressant in the microbes in soil, which stimulates serotonin, making you feel more relaxed.
Gardening is now recognised as having so many benefits that in 2019 the NHS added it to its Social Prescribing list, so patients can benefit from being out in their community, connecting with nature.
New figures revealed that in January this year, 93,812 people benefited from social prescribing, compared to 49,531 in January 2022.
James Sanderson, Director for Community Health Services at NHS England, said: “People’s ability to live full and healthy lives is dependent on more than just medication.
“Physical activities like gardening are able to help people to manage their own physical and mental health, as well as reducing demand on health and social care services.
“That’s why more than 3,000 NHS social prescribing link workers are now working in GP practices, with over 1.6 million people benefiting from social prescribing initiatives.”
‘Full body and mind workout without you even realising’
TV presenter Mark Lane is a garden designer who uses a wheelchair, having spent months in a critical care unit after a car crash.
Following a long rehab period, he studied garden and landscape design and now has his own business.
Mark has designed a garden treatment area for an ICU unit at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, where patients can spend time outdoors while fully ventilated.
He said: “I know from personal experience after my car accident how the restorative powers of gardening and the natural world can have a huge positive effect on both our mental and physical wellbeing.
“There’s no need to pay for gym memberships. Gardening can give you a full body and mind workout without even knowing it.”
He added: “Getting your bare hands in the soil can help release serotonin and endorphins, the feel-good chemicals in the brain.”
Research also shows that just living near green space can reduce mental stress.
Mark Lane said: ‘Getting your bare hands in the soil can help release serotonin and endorphins, the feel-good chemicals in the brain’[/caption]
The Royal Horticultural Society reported how in 2009, a team of Dutch researchers found a lower incidence of depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, asthma and migraines in people who lived within half a mile of green space.
Dr Lauriane Chalmin-Pui, from the RHS environmental horticulture team, did her PHD on how front gardens impact health and wellbeing.
She said: “We discovered that greener front gardens had a more positive impact on mental health and stress than paved drives.
“People actually had a healthier pattern of cortisol secretion, which helps with stress.
“The great thing about gardening is it’s an adjustable form.
“If you’re in a wheelchair, you can garden in a raised bed. If you’ve got depression, and you don’t want to go out, you can garden inside.
“We found evidence that people who garden daily had the highest level of wellbeing and the lowest levels of stress.”
She added: “The other aspect of your mental health it can help with is that sense of community.
“Gardening makes people feel linked to their home and neighbourhood. It’s very good for people’s self-esteem.”
Sara Venn, from community gardening charity Edible Bristol, said: “Our society is fractured, and community gardening is about bringing everyone back together.
“It makes you feel more connected while giving you a support mechanism which then makes you feel better.”
Edible Bristol supports communities, individuals and businesses by growing food all across the city.
It now has 40 gardens in parks, street corners and station platforms which have been built and planted with the help of volunteers and partners.
Sara Venn said: ‘Gardening is a truly wonderful thing and people are only just realising the benefits’[/caption]
The food that they grow is free for anyone to take and eat.
Sara added: “So many of the people who come to us are at an emotionally transitory phase of their lives.
“They might be very quiet and feel like no one has listened to them for a while.
“We bring them into something that feels like they are being nurtured.
“Then they get involved and you can see people really start to flourish and realise that their life is valued and they’ve got something to offer.
“People garden together in groups because when you’re concentrating with gardening, your conversations are almost a secondary thing.
“Because there is no eye contact and you’re working busily with your hands, you can have conversations that you might not normally feel comfortable with.
“Gardening is a truly wonderful thing and people are only just realising the benefits.”
Hot flush? Alleviate meopause symptoms with gardening
Together with menopause expert Dr Louise Newson, garden designer Ruth Gwynn has created a menopause garden – an outdoor space grown especially to help deal with the symptoms.
The Newson Health Menopause Garden[/caption]
Dr Newson said: “The perimenopause and menopause can have a real impact on a woman’s mental health.
“Falling hormones can trigger symptoms such as low mood and self-esteem, anxiety, brain fog and memory issues.
“As well as looking at treatments for symptoms, such as HRT, it’s really important to take a holistic approach to menopause, including exercise and taking care of your mental health.
“That’s where gardening can come in. It’s a great form of exercise, particularly if you are suffering from joint aches and pains that low oestrogen levels can cause, and may not be able to go for a run or feel like a high-intensity exercise class.
“Heavy gardening like digging helps build strength, which is particularly important for women in mid-life to help keep bones strong, as the risk of developing osteoporosis rises after the menopause.”
She added: “Gardening is part of my own mental health toolkit.
“It’s like a hidden form of therapy. it gets me out in the fresh air, surrounded by nature, and it’s exercise that takes my mind off my busy job.
“Plus, you can get a real boost and sense of achievement in cultivating a new plant or growing your own produce.”
Ruth said: “In our menopause garden there is a wood-heated outdoor bath for a good soak and relaxation, which will help with joint and muscle aches, and aid sleep.
“And the water can be drained off to feed the flowers.”
There is also a yoga area which, according to The Menopause Charity, can help improve sleep and relieve hot flushes, joint and muscle aches.
Yoga can also reinvigorate a sluggish metabolism, tone and strengthen muscles, build bone density and boost heart health.
When it comes to what vegetables to grow, spinach, broccoli and kale can help with bone density, while garlic is good for calming hot flushes.
Chickpeas contain magnesium, which can alleviate insomnia, depression and anxiety.
Ruth added: “We already know that gardening is great for exercise, but now we can use it for so much more.”
- The Newson Health Menopause Garden will be on display at BBC Gardeners’ World Live in June.
8 ways to garden safely
PHYSIOTHERAPIST Kate Hunt says: “Often we do a good three to four hours of gardening when we wouldn’t think about doing that amount of time in the gym.
“It’s a tough workout even if you are fit and healthy and you are sometimes in strange postures for quite some time. So you need to look after yourself.”
Here are Kate’s top tips for staying safe while gardening . . .
GO EASY: Take your time, vary your tasks and positions, interrupt heavy work such as digging or heavy lifting with easier tasks such as pruning or fruit picking.
STRETCH IT OUT: Before, during and after gardening, stretch! Don’t work for longer than 20-30 minutes on one task without having a stretch break. Stand up, or lie down and stretch your back.
IN REACH: Keep objects and work surfaces close to your body. This will prevent you from over-reaching and keep your spine in a balanced position.
RIGHT MOVE: Work at waist height with your elbows bent and your arms at your sides whenever possible.
SQUAT, SQUAT, SQUAT: Bend your knees, instead of bending down from the waist or hips, and squat or kneel to get to ground level for weeding and planting.
If this is not possible, consider sitting on a garden stool, bench or using a kneeling pad.
STEP UP: Gardening that requires looking up and reaching above shoulder height, such as pruning, puts strain on the neck – use a ladder or step.
LONG GAME: Use tools with long handles to avoid excessive bending and reaching, or garden in raised beds.
H2O: Have a water bottle with you to stay hydrated.
‘It calms me and helps with my mind and body’
INFLUENCER and professional gardener Nikki Jones uses gardening to help with her ADHD, and in the past has used it to manage post-natal depression.
The mum-of-two from Southampton was fired from her dream job in fashion PR after telling bosses she was pregnant.
Nikki Jones uses gardening to help with her ADHD[/caption]
She turned to gardening to help her cope.
Nikki, 38, said: “As a family we were trying to think of how to save money and be a bit greener, so we decided to grow our own.
“Then I got an allotment around the same time, which was great timing.
“But during the whole legal process with my job, which was a really difficult time, gardening also became the thing that kept me focussed. As well as keeping me physically active, it really helps to keep my mind occupied.
“With ADHD, I can become hyper-focussed and my brain feels like it is going a million miles an hour.
“But gardening calms it down and allows me time to think. It gives me another focus.
“After I was fired, I had to find myself all over again, and gardening helped me create this whole new persona. It’s completely helped my mind and body. I don’t know where I’d be without it.”
- You can find Nikki on Instagram at @thriftygreenlife.