Gardening can be a great source of enjoyment and a hobby for many of us, there’s nothing better than putting on the wellies and the gardening gloves and just getting out there in the fresh air. But there’s more to it than just enjoyment! Research suggests gardening can also have a positive effect on mental health and physical wellbeing.
This knowledge has led to an increased use of gardening as an effective form of outdoor therapy and there is a growing number of charities and organisations such as Thrive, who promote therapeutic gardening.
GARDENING FOR OVERALL PHYSICAL FITNESS
Being active doesn’t have to mean going to the gym, running marathons or cycling for miles. Gardening is the perfect alternative form of exercise, it provides a whole-body workout incorporating stretching, weight-bearing and aerobic type activities. Plus, it’s convenient, enjoyable and an easy way of keeping fit.
The cost can be minimal, especially if you’ve gardened before and already have the tools. However, one area that shouldn’t be ignored, is making sure you’re properly protected by wearing gardening gloves that are suitable for the activity. See our wide range of gloves here.
The low intensity (aerobic) aspect of gardening is good for the cardiovascular system and therefore beneficial to the heart and lungs. There’s the added advantage that activities can be done at an intensity that suits individual capabilities, there’s no pressure to go faster or do more. If you want to do some vigorous activities and get out of breath that’s fine but everything is done at your own pace. Just enjoy the fact that whatever the effort, you will still be burning calories and increasing fitness!
Weight Bearing Activities for Healthy Bones and Muscles
Carrying, digging or pushing a wheelbarrow are just a few examples of weight-bearing and resistance activities that are frequently done in the garden. It is now widely accepted by medical experts that muscle-strengthening activities help keep bones healthy and strong. The NHS suggests exercises that put a load on the body are good for reducing natural bone loss, which believe it or not begins to take place at around 35 years of age. They are also known to reduce the risk of fractures in people who already have osteoporosis.
GARDENING FOR MENTAL HEALTH AND RECUPERATION
Gardening can provide an escape from the pressures and demands of everyday life. It helps relaxation and decreases stress. Being outdoors is like having a little piece of sanctuary, where intrusions and the bombardment of our busy lives can be put to one side. Gardening is beneficial to people who suffer stress or who have mental health problems, it is also used for rehabilitation purposes and to improve the quality of life for those suffering from long term illness. The charity Horatio’s Garden, for example, creates beautiful gardens in NHS spinal injury centres, the aim of which is to provide long term patients with access to the outside world.
Outdoor Therapy for Positive Mental Health
Green therapy is becoming more widely accepted in the UK as a means of enriching the lives of people who struggle with their mental health. Gardening focuses the mind, provides a sense of purpose and in the process can increase confidence. Some schemes such as Thrive use communal gardening for physical health and social interaction. The social aspect of the therapy uses the medium of plants and gardens to encourage people to talk to each other, share their experiences and provides a sense of belonging.
Keeping the Winter Blues at Bay
Getting outdoors at any time of year and especially in winter can be a great mood lifter. The winter months can be especially difficult for some, the days are short, and the lack of sunlight can have a negative effect on mental wellbeing. Plus, many of us live and work under artificial light, which can also be detrimental to our mental health. Natural sunlight is related to the synthesis of serotonin in the body. Serotonin is known to improve mood, increase motivation and self-esteem.
Increase the ‘Sunshine’ Vitamin
Sunlight helps produce vitamin D in our bodies and is stored during the warmer sunnier months in order to make sure we have enough to last us through the winter. Some people lack vitamin D in the winter, a problem more prevalent in people living in northern latitudes like the UK. Lack of this essential vitamin can cause a variety of symptoms, low mood, tiredness and muscle aches, plus a whole host of other problems. Therefore, getting out in the winter sun is a great way of naturally topping up those vitamin D stores, which will help keep the ‘winter blues’ at bay.