With spring, the desire to garden returns. Turns out the urge to garden is actually a great idea because gardening is one of the healthiest hobbies you can develop. Read on to discover the many benefits of gardening for you and your community.

Outdoor gardening can help your body fight disease

You are closer to a plant than you think. Your body is capable of photosynthesis, the process by which plants make their own food using sunlight.
Your skin uses sunlight to make one of the nutrients you need: vitamin D. Researchers estimate that half an hour in the sun can produce between 8,000 and 50,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D in your body, depending on your clothing coverage and skin color.

Vitamin D is essential for hundreds of body functions, including strengthening bones and the immune system. Studies have also shown that exposure to the sun can help reduce the risk of:

breast cancer
colorectal cancer
bladder cancer
Prostate cancer
non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
multiple sclerosis
If your vitamin D levels are low, you are more likely to develop flare-ups of psoriasis, metabolic syndrome (a condition of prediabetes), type II diabetes, and dementia.

All of these factors must be weighed against the risk of skin cancer from overexposure to sunlight, of course. But the science is clear: a little sun in the garden is very beneficial for the body.

Gardening boosts strength, promotes sleep, and helps you maintain a healthy weight.

Gardening is physical exercise. Activities such as raking and cutting grass can fall into the category of light to moderate exercise, while shoveling, digging and cutting wood can be considered vigorous exercise. Either way, working in a garden involves all the major muscle groups of the body. This fact will not surprise anyone who woke up sore after a day’s work in the garden. Studies have shown that the physical exertion of working in a garden can help offset both age-related weight gain and childhood obesity. Researchers have also indicated that people who garden are more likely to get 7 hours of sleep per night.

Gardening can help protect your memory as you age

Doctors have long known that physical exercise improves the cognitive functions of the brain. Whether gardening by itself is enough to affect cognitive abilities such as memory is up for debate. But new data shows that gardening activities can stimulate the growth of brain nerves linked to memory. Korean researchers offered 20-minute gardening activities to people being treated for dementia in a hospital setting. After residents raked and planted vegetable gardens, researchers found increased amounts of certain brain nerve growth factors associated with memory in both men and women.

In a 2014 study, analysts found that horticultural therapy, which involves using gardening to improve mental health, could be an effective treatment for people with dementia. In fact, in the Netherlands and Norway, people with dementia often participate in innovative green care programs, where they spend much of the day working on farms and gardens.

Gardening boosts mood

Studies have shown that gardening improves mood and self-esteem. When people spend time in a garden, their anxiety levels go down and they feel less depressed. In a multi-year study published in 2011, people with depression participated in a gardening intervention for 12 weeks. Subsequently, the researchers measured several aspects of their mental health, including symptoms of depression, and found that all of these aspects improved significantly. And these improvements lasted for months after the intervention ended.

Gardening calms you down after stressful events

Working in a garden can help you recover if you have been through a stressful event. In a 2011 study, researchers exposed participants to a stressful activity. They then asked half the group to spend time reading quietly and the other half to spend time gardening. When the researchers tested the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in their bodies, they found that the gardening group recovered better from the stress than the reading group. Members of the gardening group also reported that their mood had turned positive again, while fewer readers had.

Gardening is an effective tool for recovering from addiction

Horticultural therapy has been around for millennia. So you probably won’t be surprised to learn that working with plants is part of many detox programs. In one study, researchers noted that plants elicited positive feelings in people recovering from alcohol addiction and were an effective rehabilitation tool. In another study, people in a detox program had the opportunity to participate in a natural detox program, where they could choose art or gardening as their natural therapy. People who chose gardening completed the rehabilitation program at a higher rate and reported having a more satisfying experience than those who chose art.

Allotment and community gardens promote a sense of belonging

School, family and community gardens are springing up everywhere. Perhaps the reason these small local gardens thrive has as much to do with the human interaction as the produce. In one study, students who participated in school gardens took photos of their work and shared their experiences. Students said the skills they learned and the relationships they formed gave them a sense of personal well-being. Working in a garden with people of different ages, abilities and backgrounds is a way to expand both what you know and who you know.

Gardening can give you a sense of autonomy and responsibility

Growing your own garden has always been a way to stand up to injustice and claim space in a world that doesn’t always meet our needs. If you’re looking for a way to combat inequalities in the food system — or any other injustice in your own life, you can start with this powerful act: Grow Something of Your Own.

Gardening can help you deal with eco-anxiety

For many people, observing the gradual and uncontrolled effects of climate change increases daily stress levels and creates a heavy sense of guilt. One of the most difficult aspects of this eco-anxiety? According to the researchers, it is the feeling of helplessness in the face of the situation. To combat the negative health effects of eco-anxiety, you can garden in an effort to mitigate climate change. Take the following steps if you want to reduce your carbon emissions and, in doing so, your environmental anxiety:

Use hand tools rather than gas-powered tools.
Use drippers, rain barrels and mulch to reduce your water usage.
Compost to reduce waste and methane production.
Make your yard a certified wildlife habitat and encourage your neighbors to do the same.
Plant trees to absorb carbon dioxide.

You will need to take care of yourself while you garden

As with almost any activity, gardening poses certain risks to your health and safety. Take the following precautions when gardening:

Follow product directions whenever using chemicals in the garden. Some pesticides, weed killers and fertilizers can be dangerous if not used correctly.
Wear gloves, goggles, long pants, closed shoes, and other safety gear, especially if using sharp tools.
Use sunscreen.
Drink plenty of water and take frequent breaks in the shade to avoid overheating.
Supervise children carefully. Sharp tools, chemicals, and outside heat can pose a greater threat to children.
Listen to your body. It is easy to injure yourself carrying bags of mulch and lifting shovels full of soil.
Be sure to get your tetanus shot every ten years, as tetanus is present in the soil.

To remember

Gardening invites you to get outside, interact with other gardeners, and take charge of your own need for exercise, healthy food, and a beautiful environment. If you dig, haul and harvest, your physical strength, heart health, weight, sleep and immune system will benefit. And these are only the physiological results. Gardening can also cultivate feelings of empowerment, connection, and creative calm. Whether your garden is big or small, whether it’s a raised bed, a community garden or a planter, getting dirty and eating clean is good for you.

* criptom strives to transmit health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE, the information given can not replace the opinion of a health professional.