Sadly, it seems the list of anxiety-provoking issues in our world is getting longer by the day, and Americans are feeling the negative effects to our mental health. In recent months, the rates of anxiety and depression have grown across the United States.1
Regardless of what’s going on in the world around you, the latest research suggests that by taking up one common backyard hobby, you can relieve feelings of anxiousness and fight depression. What’s more, you might even save some money on food.
As medical research takes a closer look at the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, we’ve seen a lot of evidence on the mood-boosting benefits of exercise,2 getting outside3 and socializing with friends.4 Now we can add another activity to that list — one that happens to be a personal favorite of mine: gardening.
A new study published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning reveals how gardening can improve emotional well-being.5
Encouraging News For Green Thumbs and Wannabes
During the study, researchers gave 370 adults in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area a mobile app that recorded their activity during a random, one-week period in 2016 and 2017.
- The app asked each participant to log the intensity, on a scale of one to seven, of emotions experienced during daily activities.
- The participants tracked two positive emotions (happiness and meaningfulness) and four negative ones (pain, sadness, fatigue and stress).
- Nearly 30 percent of the subjects reported that they gardened, devoting an average of 1.5 hours a week to the hobby.
After collecting all of the data, researchers created a measure of net well-being by subtracting the average recorded intensity of negative emotions experienced during an activity from the average intensity of positive emotions.
After that, they compared this well-being tally across a slew of different activities. The researchers found that gardening landed near the top of the activity lists when it came to feelings of well-being, comparable to walking, biking or even dining at a restaurant.
What’s more, the benefits of gardening were the same or even higher for people living in the city compared with those in the suburbs. So, if you’re a city dweller and think that gardening is only a pursuit of those living in the country and suburbs, this study proves you can get a mental health boost from gardening just about anywhere – even on a city balcony, an apartment window ledge or your roof.
According to the study, home gardening was the only activity out of the 15 studied for which women and people with low incomes reported higher emotional well-being than did men and participants with medium incomes and high incomes.
Which Type of Gardening Provides the Most Benefits?
Researchers discovered that all types of gardening are beneficial for mental health.
However, those participants who grew their own vegetables seemed to be more satisfied with their gardening efforts when compared to those who focused on growing flowers and decorative plants.
“The high levels of meaningfulness that respondents reported while gardening might be associated with producing one’s own food,” said co-author Graham Ambrose, a research specialist in Princeton’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
The study’s author, AnuRamaswami, of the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI), explained that the findings also have implications for food equity considering that people with lower incomes tend to have less access to healthy food options.
“Gardening could provide the health benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables, promote physical activity, and support emotional well-being, which can reinforce this healthy behavior,” Ramaswami noted.
Perhaps policymakers should consider this when discussing how to make our cities more livable?
As I mentioned earlier, I love gardening. With that said, I like to read about it and learn from my more experienced mentors. A friend of mine suggested checking out Joe Lamp’l, a professional gardener, whose ramblings on all things gardening can be found at https://joegardener.com/.
He writes extensively on his website about the emotional benefits of gardening. For example, Mr. Lamp’l writes how practicing acceptance is a great gardening perk.
“Every day is one more reminder from Mother Nature that I’m not in control,” Lamp’l said.
According to Lamp’l, gardening offers many rewards, including developing a “growth mindset,” connecting with the outside world, stress reduction and physical exercise.
Don’t get intimidated if you’ve never gardened before. To borrow the well-known sports phrase, “just do it.” But I would add the caveat not to overdo it. If you keep things manageable in the beginning it will improve your chances of experiencing the best results in your garden and in your mental health.
Your first step is to visit a local garden center to find out what plants grow best in your region. The people there have tons of experience with plants and can tell you what will work. And for any given plant, you can do an internet search and get all the information you need to grow and care for it.
Gardening can be as complex or as simple as you want to make it. Start simple and learn gradually.
Choose flowers and plants you like to look at, and fruits and vegetables you enjoy eating. As far as vegetables, I’d also suggest starting with produce that’s easy and that grows quickly, like radishes, carrots or lettuce.
Believe me, when you pull that first sweet homegrown carrot out of your garden, you’ll have more motivation to stick with it!
- University of East Anglia. “It’s official — spending time outside is good for you.” ScienceDaily, 6 July 2018.