Why Gardening May Give You a Healthier, Longer Life

Do you garden? If not, you might want to consider starting!

People have been caring for and harvesting plants since the dawn of time, but as society continues to move into an urban-based lifestyle, fewer people are gardening for themselves. However, while we may no longer need to grow our own food anymore, learning to garden is still a great idea because it can fulfill more than just our physical needs! Whether it be a garden of vegetables, flowers, herbs, or a combination of the three, growing our own plants has been shown to yield psychological benefits that have lasting effects.

Finding ways to maintain psychological well-being and positive mental health is a must for modern living. This is because our contemporary lifestyle puts us at risk for diseases that come with living a sedentary living: higher consumption of unhealthy foods and high levels of stress. Children today may be suffering with what Richard Louv calls “Nature Deficit Disorder” (2005), a condition that he attributes to the unhealthy habits of modern urban lifestyles and the loss of unstructured play in nature. Research has also shown that the elderly greatly suffer from limited time outdoors, while being outdoors can improve overall mood and health (Louv 2011).

The aesthetic appeal of being outdoors, in addition to exposure to sunlight and fresh air, can help in restoring a connection with the natural world and in preserving cognitive functioning. Gardening is one amazing activity that can draw people of all ages back outside.

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Family and friends taking a lunch break from gardening © Ronald Rogowski 2002

Pursuing gardening, whether it be in a small apartment planter or a local community garden, can lower stress levels and increase social connections. A recent study has found that gardening reduces depression, anxiety, and obesity, and helps in increasing life satisfaction, quality of life, and a sense of community (Soga & Yamaura 2016).

Gardening has also been shown to be useful in improving the physical health of adults. According to the National Health Institute, over 1 billion people worldwide are affected by a Vitamin D deficiency, which is a known factor in premature death (Nair & Maseeh 2012). This can be changed by increasing exposure to sunlight, a natural provider of Vitamin D, which can be done simply just by going outside and gardening.

Mental functioning can also be strengthened by gardening, as caring for plants demands the basic information-processing skills of recognition, prediction, control, and evaluation (Gross & Lane 2007). When these mental processes are challenged during gardening, gardeners reap psychological gratification and a healthier mind. Thus, although there are other activities that one can participate in outdoors, caring for plants is an easily-achievable way to relieve stress and improve mental and physical health.

Gardening connects people to each other and improves relationships. A study in Baltimore found that a community garden increased social cohesion among gardeners. People who participated in their local community garden “developed trusting relationships with their neighbors and shared learning experiences” (Poulsen et al. 2014). Being able to interact with neighbors who share common interests, like gardening, can help in creating new friendships and relationships, leading to a higher quality of life.

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Sisters taking a stroll in a strawberry field in the summer © Wieslawa Rogowski 2002

As a busy college student, I am finding that incorporating gardening in my life helps me destress and reminds me of my family. As a young girl, I often helped my parents pick out vegetables to grow in our annual garden, and even had my own flower box filled with multi-colored marigolds. Three summers picking strawberries on my family farm in northeastern Poland, helped me foster an appreciation and connection to plants. But as I got older, I became more drawn to the calls of Netflix and social media. While I never stopped caring for nature, trips to the garden became sparse, and chances to spend the summer in Europe became increasingly rare.

During my freshman year of college, I sought out an opportunity at a local garden center for a summer job. There my love for gardening resurfaced. I found the most fascinating plants and longed to have them as my own to take care of. I quickly became inspired to start an herb garden my first year working there. I dug out my old marigold flower box and planted some basil, thyme, and rosemary. I found myself spending more time outside. Caring for different living plants gave me a small newfound sense of purpose. I could link this to a part of my identity that I was slowly re-discovering.

I also found myself spending more time with my family. We would work on our own little garden projects on warm afternoons and evenings. My mother, a lifelong gardener, gave me tips and suggestions for my herbs.

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A spring afternoon in the garden, early 2000s © Wieslawa Rogowski

Gardening can be an enjoyable experience that can lower stress, improve overall physical health, and increase social ties between people. Leaving the comfort of the indoors to explore a local community garden or taking a trip to a garden center to start your own planter can be the first step in creating — or perhaps reigniting — the joy of gardening.

For further reading:

  • Gross, H., Lane N. “Landscapes of the lifespan: Exploring accounts of own gardens and gardening”. Journal of Environmental Psychology., 2007. doi:10.1016/j.jenvp.2007.04.003
  • Louv, Richard. Last child in the woods: saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 2005.
  • Nair, R., & Maseeh, A. “Vitamin D: The “sunshine” vitamin.” Journal of Pharmacology & Pharmacotherapeutics, vol. 3(2), 2012, pp. 118–126. doi:10.4103/0976-500X.95506
  • Soga, M., Gaston, K. J., & Yamaura, Y.“Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-analysis.” Preventive Medicine Reports, vol. 5, 2017, pp. 92–99. doi:10.1016/j.pmedr.2016.11.007
  • Poulsen, M. N., Hulland, K. R. S., Gulas, C. A., Pham, H., Dalglish, S. L., Wilkinson, R. K. and Winch, P. J.“Growing an Urban Oasis: A Qualitative Study of the Perceived Benefits of Community Gardening in Baltimore, Maryland.” CAFÉ, vol. 36, 2014, pp. 69–82. doi:10.1111/cuag.12035

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