Getting to the gym is hard, but a recent study has concluded gardening allows people to reap similar benefits, both psychologically and physically.
At the beginning of this month, academic researchers from three different institutions released a study about the beneficial effects of gardening on everyday lives. The study’s focal point was home gardening, not communal, or urban green spaces. While research from the latter has been readily available in the sustainable planning dialogue in recent decades, findings from the former have been few and far between. Of note is that “home gardening” in this study included both indoor and outdoor activities, so long as they are not in a “public” space.
“Gardening includes the cultivation of food crops for home consumption,” the research plan defines, “but also the growing of ornamental plants for aesthetic purposes.” In other words, the benefits from “gardening” in this study include those garnered through indoor plantscaping as well as more traditional, domestic gardening alike.
The study — which was conducted through over 6,900 respondent surveys of varying genders, ages, and socioeconomic status — concluded there are tangible benefits to gardening and frequent gardening activities increase the likelihood of these benefits. Variables were controlled when analyzing rates of change and similar data sets. Researchers identified two to three gardening sessions per week as ideal for maximum health improvement; these activities include planting, harvesting, and caring for vegetation either inside your home or in a private, outdoor garden. The benefits gained are directly proportional with the time spent amongst the greenery, meaning additional time in a garden increases the positive effects (to a certain extent).
“An individual who gardened ‘daily’ had an expected perceived stress score lower than those who gardened less regularly,” the study states. The effects do have an upward limit though. So, while we all would love to simply live in our gardens, the researchers suspect gardening’s ability to calm our minds and better our physical health “max out” at a certain point, although that upper threshold has yet to be concretely defined. Nonetheless, more time in a garden is not described by the study as doing harm, but the effects may simply level off.
While the news that spending time outside and amongst greenery is not novel, this study outlines how specific aspects of gardens correlate with bettering personal health.
For example, gardens that have more luscious and jungle-like greenery were more beneficial than those with smaller, more shrub-like plants. Placement of domestic greenery matters as well. According to the study, “increasing the vegetation component of front gardens has been linked with lower self-reported stress in residents.” In part, this could be because even repeated viewing and minimal interaction with greenery have been linked to calmer emotions (through decreased cortisol production — the hormone responsible for stress factors in the brain), and entering and exiting a home whose facade is lush with vegetation could feasibly contribute to those effects.
Furthermore, the study suggests biodiversity in domestically-planted vegetation has beneficial components as well. “Enhancing the number of plant taxa present has been linked to stronger restorative effects,” the researchers found. In other words, when heading to the local hardware or gardening store, opt for two or three different types and sizes of plants, not all of the same. The correlation between biodiversity and positive health benefits have yet to be fully fleshed out, but one may infer that higher variation in greenery mimics more organic greenery experiences, which triggers humans’ most primal instincts that they are in a natural, untouched environment.
Most notable of the statistical findings is that adults who garden upwards of two times per week experienced an over six percent drop in perceived stress, with depression symptoms also decreasing by over four percent.
Children and adolescents can also reap the benefits of gardening. Children ages four to six experience less behavioral difficulty when exposed to gardens consistently while adolescents (and older persons) are shown to perceive less stress in their daily lives, handle stress more proficiently when it does arise, as well as experience lower incidences of depression. These findings compound on a 2017 study regarding children’s mental health in relation to natural spaces by a similar team of researchers.
“When gardening, our brains are pleasantly distracted by nature around us,” says Dr. Shalmin-Pui, one of the lead researchers for this study. “This shifts our focus away from ourselves and our stresses, thereby restoring our minds and reducing negative feelings.”
The study is available for all persons, free of charge, here.