Keep Calm and Plant a Garden

As an outdoor activity, gardening allows you to get some exercise and sweat. Any physical movement is good for your body, and because gardening mostly takes place outside, your body is able to absorb the vitamin D that it needs.

Cortisol is the hormone associated with stress, and stress is a huge health risk. Chronically elevated cortisol levels have been linked to everything from immune function to obesity and heart disease. Elevated stress levels can also cause memory and learning problems.

Gardening may be just one way to achieve your target 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise each week. A study indicated that gardening regularly cuts stroke and heart attack risks by up to 30 percent for those over 60 years old. Activities such as gardening, do-it-yourself projects, and housework may be as good as formal exercise when it comes to reducing the risk for heart attack and stroke. Make sure to expose your limbs (without sunscreen) for just 10 minutes during midday gardening. That exposure will give you enough vitamin D to reduce risks of heart disease, osteoporosis, and various cancers. People with lower vitamin D levels may be doubling their risk of dying from heart disease. In most cases, too much time spent indoors is to blame.

As we age, diminishing dexterity and strength in the hands can gradually narrow the range of activities that are possible. All that digging, planting, and pulling does more than produce plants. Gardening activities will increase your hand strength. Gardening keeps those hand muscles vigorous and agile without exercising around hand-based exercises.

Researchers found daily gardening can cause the single biggest risk reduction for dementia, reducing incidence by 36 to 47 percent. Why does gardening make such a difference? Alzheimer’s is a mysterious disease, and the factors controlling its development and progression remain poorly understood. However, gardening involves many of our critical functions, including strength, endurance, dexterity, learning, problem solving, and sensory awareness.

The positive bacteria, Mycobacterium vaccae, is common in garden dirt and absorbed by inhalation or ingestion of vegetables. The bacteria have been found to alleviate symptoms of psoriasis, allergies, and asthma, all of which may stem from a low functioning immune system. Researchers are still speculating how our immune system may interact with our brains and play into a variety of mental health issues in addition to our ability to fend off infection.
Horticultural therapy (also known as gardening therapy) is a professional practice that uses plants and gardening to improve mental health. A horticultural therapist works with any group that can benefit from interaction with plants. Those potential groups include veterans, children, the elderly, and those dealing with addiction or mental health problems.

Gardening therapy is rooted in the idea that interacting with plants can bring about good thoughts, whether it’s tending a garden or having potted plants in your home. Taking care of a plant or a garden with guidance from a therapist can improve not only your state of mind, but your blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormone levels.

When we exercise, levels of serotonin and dopamine (hormones that create good feelings) rise, and the level of stressful cortisol is lowered. Some of the therapeutic power of gardening is that it allows us to unleash our anger and aggression as well as providing an opportunity to experience the feeling of nurture. The great thing about destructiveness in the garden is that it’s also connected to renewal and growth. If the plants aren’t cut back, then they will swamp any available space.

Anxious people often feel overwhelmed by the world around them, and gardening can be a good way of gaining a sense of control. Trying to control other people is a fruitless exercise. People are more likely to succeed in controlling their beds and borders, which makes gardening a particularly satisfying experience.

Gardening also allows reflective time to deal with grief. Garden therapy has proven helpful to many eating disorder and depression sufferers. Not only does it help them to peacefully reconnect with themselves, it also allows them to have the same control. Studies have revealed that children with ADD who regularly spend time in green spaces swiftly experience a marked reduction in their symptoms.

Written by: Cody Gatts

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