Around the world, people are discovering the physical and mental health benefits of digging in the dirt.
New findings from The Impact of Home and Community Gardening in America, a survey from the National Gardening Association, indicate that gardens in America are more popular than ever before. An estimated 7 million households in the United States will grow their own fruit, vegetables, herbs, and plants this year, a 19 percent increase.
The growing desire to grow is thought to be part of the economic turn in the country; gardeners are discovering that their gardens can produce higher-quality, lower-cost produce. Whether they realize it or not, the simple act of planting, tending, and harvesting has significant health benefits.
Stop and Smell the Roses
Gardening has been a go-to for achieving mental well-being for decades. The non-profit U.K. gardening organization, Thrive last year published independent research that says gardening can not only help a person's overall well-being but can improve the health of those suffering from a disability or mental illness.
Thrive reports that 31 percent of the disabled people surveyed believed gardening helped their overall health, and one in five say it helped during a period of mental or physical illness. Studies have also shown health improvements for patients with dementia, schizophrenia, and depression.
Health Benefits for Young and Old
In recent years, school gardening projects have been increasing in popularity, in which a school or class maintains a garden as an academic activity. A report published in the edition of The Journal of Environmental Education surveyed the literature on U.S. school gardens. The results found that school gardening can improve students' test scores and school behavior and assist teachers in academic instruction.
A study published in HortScience discussed older adults in Kansas that found gardening improved their health in areas like hand strength and self-esteem. Such recent gardening research details that gardening can be used to meet the Centers For Disease Control's requirements for physical activity.
For older adults, this can include 2 ½ hours of moderate activity per week, along with muscle-strength training activities two or more days per week, or alternate equivalents. The CDC also offers recommendations in weekly activity levels for both adults and children.
The importance of gardening for older adults is that it is an exercise regime that they can keep up consistently. Gardening offers a variety of tasks and activities that change depending on climate and seasons. Older adults can lead a more sedentary lifestyle, and tending to a garden can offer exercises such as digging holes, pulling weeds, carrying soil, or even pushing a lawnmower.
Organizations like Thrive suggest that potential gardeners start with what type of garden would benefit their situation, environment, or climate. Houseplants are a suggestion for the novice, while those looking for more involvement should consider volunteering at a local community garden.