While some take up gardening as a fun weekend hobby or a cheaper way to add fresh fruits and veggies to their diet, there may also be some health benefits to getting down and dirty in the backyard. Recent studies suggest gardening can improve mood, reduce stress, and even encourage a more hopeful outlook on life Therapeutic horticulture in clinical depression: a prospective study. Gonzalez, M.T., Hartig, T., Patill, G.G., et al. Norwegian University of Life Sciences, As, Norway. Research and Theory for Nursing Practice 2009; 23(4):312-28. Gardening promotes neuroendocrine and affective restoration from stress. Van Den Berg, A.E., Custers, M.H. Wageningen University and Research Center, The Netherlands. Journal of Health Psychology 2011 Jan; 16(1); 3-11. . Not convinced of its mental health impact? Grab some gloves and dig in!

Ready, Set, Grow! — The Takeaway

gardening When it comes to the distressed, another study suggests that gardening outdoors could be more effective at reducing cortisol levels (read: the “stress” hormone) than staying indoors and reading Gardening promotes neuroendocrine and affective restoration from stress. Van Den Berg, A.E., Custers, M.H. Wageningen University and Research Center, The Netherlands. Journal of Health Psychology 2011 Jan; 16(1); 3-11. . In the study, those who spent 30 minutes gardening also reported improved moods, while the bookworms only seemed to feel more stressed Gardening promotes neuroendocrine and affective restoration from stress. Van Den Berg, A.E., Custers, M.H. Wageningen University and Research Center, The Netherlands. Journal of Health Psychology 2011 Jan; 16(1); 3-11. . Additional research suggests that in some individuals, gardening might also bring out greater feelings of spirituality and could even offer relief from traumatic experiences like dealing with illness or the death of a loved one Gardening as a therapeutic intervention in mental health. Page, M. 2gether NHS Foundation Trust, Gloucester, UK. Nursing Times 2008 Nov 11-17; 104(45): 28-30. Embedded spirituality: gardening in daily life and stressful life experiences. Unruh, A. Hutchinson S. School of Health and Human Performance, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, Canada. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences 2011 Sep; 25(3): 567-74. .In one study, researchers found that gardening can be therapeutic, particularly among those suffering from depression Therapeutic horticulture in clinical depression: a prospective study. Gonzalez, M.T., Hartig, T., Patill, G.G., et al. Norwegian University of Life Sciences, As, Norway. Research and Theory for Nursing Practice 2009; 23(4):312-28. . Over the course of a 12-week horticulture program, subjects showed decreases in the severity of their depression, with the biggest mood boosting effects occurring in those who were most engaged in their gardening activities Therapeutic horticulture in clinical depression: a prospective study. Gonzalez, M.T., Hartig, T., Patill, G.G., et al. Norwegian University of Life Sciences, As, Norway. Research and Theory for Nursing Practice 2009; 23(4):312-28. . Not bad for a day’s work. An added health bonus for green thumbs? Gardening allows easy access to fresh produce, straight from Mother Nature herself. Research suggests people who grow their own produce consume higher levels of nutritious fruits and veggies The influence of social involvement, neighborhood aesthetics, and community garden participation on fruit and vegetable consumption. Litt, J.S., Soobader, M.J., Turbin, M.S., et al. Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Colorado School of Public Health, Aurora, CO. American Journal of Public Health 2011 Aug; 101(8):1466-73. . And getting produce straight from the backyard can also ease the mind (so no more worrying if those supermarket tomatoes are organic and pesticide-free!) Organic foods contain higher levels of certain nutrients, lower levels of pesticide, and may provide health benefits for the consumer. Crinnion, W.J. Environmental Medicine Program, Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, Tempe, AZ. Alternative Medicine Review: A Journal of Clinical Therapeutic 2010 Apr; 15(1):4-12. . But while gardening can be part of an active and healthy lifestyle, injuries are common, particularly strains in the hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, and neck. Start by buying the proper ergonomically correct tools and ease into it— there’s no need to do too much too soon. And be sure to wear a hat, slather on sunscreen (at least SPF 30 on the body and 15 on the lips!), and stay hydrated.

The Tip

Get gardening to help improve mood and relieve stress.

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