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Garden-grown vegetables are among the healthiest foods you can eat, but the benefits of gardening extend beyond the foods that are grown and consumed. All passionate home gardeners know that getting your hands in the soil improves your state of mind and deepens a personal connection to the earth. While there is a clear relationship between doing something that you are passionate about and your level of happiness, there are several other aspects of mental health benefits to gardening that may not be so obvious.

Physical Activity and Mental Focus

One major benefit that comes with gardening is the physical tasks of preparing, maintaining, and harvesting all your plants. When performing work in the garden you will most likely be standing, sitting, kneeling, twisting, or bending to perform plant and soil maintenance. Moving around gets your heart beating, your joints moving and your muscles working for a prolonged period of time. Spending time in the garden is a great way to get your body and mind active for 30 minutes every day during the growing season. While performing tasks in the garden, a certain level of focus is required towards the immediate task at hand. Whether it is sowing seeds or trimming leaves, these are all things that require focus and diligence to be effective. The focus required to complete such tasks does not give your mind time to ponder negative thoughts, or focus on the stress of work or life, which tends to result in an overall improvement in mood. Furthermore, gardening increases your attention span. They say practice makes perfect and it is true for focus as well. Since gardening requires focus on one task at a time, it helps you build your concentration skills since you cannot sow seeds and trim leaves at the same time!

Image credits: https://www.gardengatemagazine.com/articles/how-to/all/how-to-choose-the-right-rake/ 
Check out the image credits if you would like to learn more about rakes – Hint: There are more than one type of rake

Relaxing the Mind

Some of the benefits come from the plants themselves. There is a huge selection of studies, suggesting various psychological benefits of being around plants – even the simple act of looking at plants produces mental health benefits. Studies have found that this simple act, results in increased parasympathetic nervous system (this is the rest-and-relax part of your nervous system) activity and decreased levels of oxidized hemoglobin in the right prefrontal lobe, both of these are indicators of a relaxed state. This is only one of many examples. Just like gardening itself improves mood, so do plants. Evidence also seems to point to benefits being greater with real plants than fake ones. The biophilia hypothesis claims that since most of human evolution took place in the context of nature, we have some sort of biological attraction to it. While it is only a hypothesis, there is a lot of evidence supporting it, and it would explain why simply being around plants triggers all these things for us.

Stress Relief

While the aforementioned benefits may seem obvious to some, there are other unique ways that gardening may be helpful to overall health and wellness. There is some scientific evidence that some soil microbes, like Mycobacterium vaccae, help reduce stress. While the exact mechanisms need some research, there is evidence that this is done by reducing brain inflammation and stimulating the creation of serotonin, among other things. There is also a scientific hypothesis, called the hygiene hypothesis, which states that, for a variety of reasons, people are currently exposed to less beneficial bacteria than they were historically. These bacteria help our immune systems, reduce inflammation, as well as help reduce stress and other mental health challenges. So, through gardening, you may be exposing your body to these friendly and beneficial bacteria which are much more abundant in a garden environment than in the rest of our built urban environment. However, it should be noted that there is still much scientific research that needs to be done in this area, but why not try it yourself.

Image credits: https://www.bacteriainphotos.com/mycobacterium%20vaccae.html 
This is Mycobacterium Vaccae – it doesn’t look like much, but it’s clearly quite valuable to human health!

Mental Well Being

Scientific reasons aside, gardening can also teach you many lessons that are beneficial to your mental well-being. One such lesson is learning how to cope with the lack of control. This may seem strange given that there are many things you can control in a garden. But the truth is you can do everything right, and your plants can still fail. Maybe it was a bad batch of seeds or unexpected weather or overzealous wildlife (it is not the rabbit’s fault that your lettuce is so tasty!). While this may be upsetting at first, it can help you understand that this is part of life and no matter what you do, things don’t always go your way because nature is, well, naturally chaotic. On a similar vein, gardening teaches resilience. You may try something and it does not work, or something unexpected may happen and your plans all have to change. Regardless, life goes on and learn can be learned from those experiences to improve in the future. One other important lesson that gardening teaches you is patience. When you start a garden, it will not be the lush oasis you dreamed of overnight. In fact, it will just be a bunch of dirt and maybe some tiny sprouts or weeds. But your garden will grow over time as plant life gets established, leading to the reward of a bountiful harvest within a couple months. The idea that good things come with time is something that can be applied to all areas of one life, because evolution takes place over time, not the click of a button.

Image credit: https://swanhose.com/blogs/general-watering/how-does-water-its-amount-its-quality-affect-plant-growth  
Just like you help your plants grow, they can help you grow!

So, while gardening, can seem like a lot of work, it is worth it on many levels you may not even realize the science behind why you feel so good when being outdoors working with plant life. Your stomach isn’t the only thing that will benefit from a healthy and hearty backyard or balcony garden! Stay tuned for more!

Blog made in collaboration with Boreal Farms.