10 surprising health benefits of gardening

With Garden Day observed on October 11, roll up your sleeves and get digging and planting this spring.

Over the past few months, South Africans have turned to their green spaces to find solace and balance.

Gardening has been proven to boost mental and physical well-being and create a sense of belonging and connection.

With spring in the air, it offers a chance to pause, reflect, and celebrate a season of new beginnings – from enjoying an outdoor picnic with your family to sharing your green haven with friends online.

Being a plant parent and caring for plants can also do wonders for your own well-being, an abundance of scientific research suggests.

Physical exercise can contribute to a healthy weight and blood pressure levels, and just interacting with plants can improve your mood and mental health.

“Nature has a huge impact on health and wellness,” says Gwenn Fried, manager of Horticulture Therapy at NYU Langone’s Rusk Rehabilitation. “We know that people’s cortisol levels go down in a calm, green environment.”

According to a recent survey by the gardening app Candide, 96% of people said they felt happier when spending downtime in their gardens.

The findings revealed that the most popular garden activities were spending time in a favourite spot admiring plants, listening to birdsong and watching the wildlife, breathing in the fresh air and garden scents, enjoying a cuppa and a chat, taking me time with a quiet bite to eat, playing with the children, reading a book, or lazing on the grass.

Anyone from a newbie gardener to a gardening guru can benefit from the calming effects of mulching, potting, pruning or weeding. But that’s not all that’s good about gardening.

Here are 10 good reasons to get gardening:

1. Improves immune system

Spending time in the sun increases the absorption of vitamin D, which in turn helps the body absorb calcium to keep your bones and immune system healthy.

2. Burns calories

Gardening is hard work and can burn as many as 330 calories in one hour. Swopping your gym membership for gardening five times a week might be a feasible idea.

Scientists also believe that gardening maintains muscle tone.

3. Relieves stress

One of the main mental health benefits of gardening is its ability to relieve stress.

Gardening requires a lot of physical activity and helps to release a group of feel-good hormones known as endorphins, which makes you feel relaxed and satisfied.

Also, being outside in sunlight is an instant mood booster.

“It’s been proven that if you surround yourself with plants and flowers, you’re likely to be happier. I can attest to that,” says Wolseley-based flower farmer and Garden Day flower crown ambassador Adene Nieuwoudt. “My flowers keep me energised and enthusiastic.

4. Reduces the risk of stroke

Numerous studies have shown that gardening lowers the risk of stroke and heart disease, and can prolong your life by up to 30%.

A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that gardening for as little as 10 minutes a week had a positive impact on health and reduced the risk of developing heart disease.

5. Improves diet and gut health

Several studies show that gardeners eat more fruit and vegetables than their peers and people who grow their food tend to eat (and be) healthier. Also, home-grown food tastes better and is more appealing because of the time and effort it requires to grow and harvest.

6. Anger therapy

Ever wanted to get rid of that built-up tension after a rough day? Simply doing some heavy digging or serious pruning can help you to blow off some steam. Did we mention it’s free?

7. Creates a sense of responsibility

Growing and maintaining a garden creates a sense of responsibility, purpose and ownership.

8. Enhances the sensory system

Gardening engages all senses: smelling fresh herbs, feeling the soil between your fingers and listening to the bees buzzing around the flowers.

This is especially valuable for the development and education of young children as it stimulates their sensory awareness.

9. Channels your inner creative

Gardening helps inspire creativity and allows people to express themselves.

It offers an outlet to connect with yourself, your dreams and passions by creating a space to reflect, nurture and grow.

Being creative makes for happy humans. Garden Day flower crown ambassador and award-winning interior designer Donald Nxumalo concurs.

“There’s an unhurried creativity that comes with gardening,” says Nxumalo. “Typically, I’m racing against the clock, but on my balcony I can let the process evolve slowly. This balances and invigorates me. It inspires my design work.”

10. Stay connected

Community gardens bring people together and create a common purpose. Everyone has a need to belong.

Being a part of a community fulfils this and with that comes a range of health benefits for those involved.

These include: increased feelings of happiness and contentment by making new friends, feeling fulfilled and having fun, counteracting stress and anxiety, protecting against isolation and feelings of depression and providing a sense of purpose and mental stimulation