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9 reasons why gardening is great for your health

Pottering about in the garden can protect the heart, reduce stress and is great for your emotional wellbeing too.

1. Can help people live longer

Gardeners are optimistic: always planning ahead, and planting trees that they’re unlikely to outlive. But it’s not just wishful thinking: a study from University College London found that every minute spent pottering in the garden or doing another light activity helped to cut the risk of early death. A daily 30 minutes of activity reduced the risk of early death by 17%.

2. Protects the heart

Staying active helps to protect against heart disease and strokes, and gardening is an excellent form of aerobic exercise. Although the intensity is lower than in a gym workout, gardening usually lasts twice as long and you can burn around 300-400 calories an hour when mowing the lawn or digging soil. As long as they make you feel warmer, breathe harder and make your heart beat faster, activities such as DIY and gardening count towards the 150 minutes of moderate-intensity weekly activity that the British Heart Foundation recommends for a healthy lifestyle.

3. Reduces stress

Too much stress can affect your blood pressure and compromise your immune system, but research has shown gardening to be a brilliant stress buster. In one Dutch study, gardening and reading both produced a drop in cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’) but the decreases were much more noticeable among gardeners.

4. Can be very sociable

To reap the health rewards of gardening, you don’t even need your own garden. Contact your council about allotment availability or seek out a community garden in your neighbourhood and dig in. RHS has some great tips for setting one up.

5. Speeds up recovery

Gardening can ease the pain associated with serious health conditions, and help to restore motor and cognitive skills following accident or injury. Thrive a gardening charity, runs courses for people recovering from cancer, stroke and lung conditions. Macmillan Cancer Support also views gardening as beneficial during or after treatment.

6. Eases effects of dementia

Learning new things keeps the brain active and there are always skills to be acquired in gardening. For patients with dementia, the garden environment has been shown to ease associated behaviour such as pacing and agitation. Late-stage dementia patients may also respond better to sensory stimulation, such as scents and birdsong, than they do to words, according to Alzheimer’s Society.

7. Enhances emotional wellbeing

Happiness is hard to measure but it’s usually tied into positive self-esteem and a sense of satisfaction – both of which can be greatly enhanced by gardening. Completing a specific task such as weeding or pruning is very satisfying and provides a sense of control, which can be comforting. The natural rhythm of the gardening year, an awareness of the seasons, and a recycling of resources can all contribute to a general sense of contentment. Read more here.

8. Supports healthier eating

If you grow your own food you’re likely to eat better, which reduces the risk of diabetes and helps to lower your BMI. In 2008, a US study discovered that people who took part in community gardening ate 40% more fruit and vegetables a day than non-gardeners, and were 3.5 times more likely to meet their five-a-day requirement.

9. Keeps you mobile

In 2012, American researchers Tuo-Yu Chen and Megan Janke found that gardeners had significantly better balance than non-gardeners, and were 30% less likely to report falls. Gardening is a good way to top up your vitamin D – more vitamin D means better calcium absorption, which makes for stronger bones – so if you do take a tumble it’s less likely to result in a fracture.

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