You may have heard that a little bit of dirt never hurt anyone, but now a recent study by Michigan State University gives evidence that spending a few hours a week digging in the dirt can help reduce stress and create a mental clarity while also helping to prevent conditions like heat disease and even colon cancer.
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that moderate-intensity level activity roughly three hours a week can reduce the risk for obesity, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, stroke, depression and several other conditions. The CDC considers gardening to meet the moderate-intensity level, and their research shows gardeners are more likely to spend an additional hour engaged in activity than someone doing regimented exercises like running.
A study conducted in the Netherlands suggests that gardening can be better stress fighter than many other leisure activities. In the study, groups of people completed stressful tasks. Once the tasks were complete, half the group read indoors for 30 minutes and the other half worked in the garden for 30 minutes. The gardening group reported being in a better mood than the readers and had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Another European study showed that the “effortless attention” of gardening may help improve symptoms related to depression. Effortless attention, a theory popularized by University of Michigan researchers in the 1980s, simply means the ability to enjoy an activity or surroundings with a type of focus that freely flows from the mind and body, requiring little thought. Contrast effortless attention to a ball player or musician being in the “zone.”
The simple, repetitive movements of tending the garden along with the exposure to the sights, sounds and smells associated with being outdoors, provided improvement for the research subjects participating in the study. After three months of gardening, roughly six hours a week, the participants showed marked improvement in their depression symptoms. For some, the improvements lasted for several months after the program/gardening ended.
Establishing a garden is great for your cardiovascular health. Hauling the wheelbarrows of soil, compost and mulch can be good exercise for the heart, and if your garden is sizable enough, using a hoe to dig up weeds can provide an additional cardiovascular benefit.
The most common actions associated with gardening – digging, planting, weeding and watering – help reinforce the limberness in hands, arms and shoulders. This type of exercise was found to be more rewarding for some than going to the gym, because of the results gained. Weeds were pulled, vegetables and flowers were planted then enjoyed, and you see the results of your efforts every time. The CDC estimates that up to 350 calories are burned with 30 to 45 minutes of gardening.
The medical journal Biological Psychiatry reported that simply getting fresh air may help prevent Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
The fresh produce adds obvious nutritional benefits by increasing the amount of fresh food eaten by the gardeners.
Caring for a garden is a good way to introduce children to the concepts of responsibility and reward for working.
Adapted from Sam’s Club, Healthy Living Made Simple, February 2017