Gardening a Healthy Hobby

As a lifelong and passionate gardener, it pleases me that my hobby provides not only joy, but substantial health benefits.

My love of gardening started when I was young and continues today. I have fond memories of my father taking me to the garden store as a child and letting me choose plants for our yard. Throughout my college years and medical school, when I began studying the benefits of herbs, I always kept a garden and even extended it to the roof of my apartment when I ran out of room! I thought I would share with you some of the many ways gardening affects our health and connects to the brain, heart, and gut.

Brain

Gardening can improve our mood and reduce the risk of dementia. In fact, a study in the Netherlands cited by CNN suggests that gardening is more effective at reducing stress than other hobbies. Participants completed a stressful task and were then told to either read indoors or go outside and garden. After 30 minutes, the gardening group reported better moods, and their blood tests showed lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In addition, the microbiome in soil has been shown to act as an antidepressant and its effects have been used to study cancer patients, resulting in heightened happiness, vitality and “significantly improved quality of life.”

Heart/Cardiometabolic

While most gardening falls under the category of moderate physical exercise, studies show that the activity can cause reductions in cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality rates. And, when in addition to regular exercise, gardening or DIY activities can cut the risk of a heart attack or stroke and prolong life by as much as 30% among those ages 60+, according to a study of almost 4,000 participants in Stockholm.

Gut

Research shows that the human gut and soil contain about the same number of active microorganisms and that there is a connection between microbes in the soil and the environment and our own microbiome. Exposure to these microbes affects our health in a number of ways, including balancing our microbes and even improving our mood. We’ve learned through studies that growing up in a microbe-rich environment, such as a farm, can have positive health effects on children. However, these effects may change due to urbanization and conventional foods.

Additional Benefits of Healthy Gardening

Gardening offers a bounty of additional benefits as well, including spending time in nature, exposure to the sun and Vitamin D, exercise, the opportunity to grow and eat organic, nutritious food and herbs, and an ongoing hobby that requires attention. It has also been shown to lower the risk of dementia, boost mood and combat loneliness.

Also, digging in and breathing in dirt not only nourishes and protects plants and plays a role in stabilizing the climate, but some research suggests a relationship between increased autoimmune disease and a disruption in the symbiotic relationships of soil microorganisms, so caring for a garden can be a conduit to increased microbial interactions.

For me, planning and tending to my garden has always been a source of healing and rejuvenation. I encourage you to explore this healthy hobby or, at the very least, take the time to begin composting your kitchen scraps.


Worth Reading

Allyn, Bruce, Amaranthus, Mike, Healthy Soil Microbes, Healthy People: The microbial community in the ground is as important as the one in our guts, The Atlantic/2013

Blum, Winfried E.H., Keiblinger, Katharina M., Zechmeister-Boltenstern, Sophie, Does Soil Contribute to the Human Gut Microbiome?, NCBI/2019

Donner, Nina C., Fox, James H., Fuchsl, Andrea M., et al., Immunization with a heat-killed preparation of the environmental bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae promotes stress resilience in mice, PNAS/2016

Gaston, Kevin J., Soga, Masashi, Yamaurac, Yuichi, Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-analysis, ScienceDirect/March 2017

Goldman, Bruce, Gut bust: Intestinal microbes in peril, Stanford Magazine/2016 Hayes, Kim, 5 Secret Health Benefits of Gardening, AARP/2017

Ochoa-Hueso, Raul, Global Change and the Soil Microbiome: A Human-Health Perspective, Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution/2017

Staff, Three Ways Gardening is Good for Your Gut, Hyperbiotics.com

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