Why Gardening Is Good for Your Health
Digging in the dirt can ease stress, keep you limber, and even improve your mood
Gardening gets you out in the fresh air and sunshineand it also gets your blood moving. "There are lots of different movements in gardening, so you get some exercise benefits out of it as well," says William Maynard, the community garden program coordinator for the City of Sacramento's Department of Parks and Recreation.
Gardening is hardly pumping iron, and unless you're hauling wheelbarrows of dirt long distances every day, it probably won't do much for your cardiovascular fitness. But digging, planting, weeding, and other repetitive tasks that require strength or stretching are excellent forms of low-impact exercise, especially for people who find more vigorous exercise a challenge, such as those who are older, have disabilities, or suffer from chronic pain.
As a pleasurable and goal-oriented outdoor activity, gardening has another advantage over other forms of exercise: People are more likely to stick with it and do it often.
"It's not just exercise for exercise itself, which can become tedious," says Katherine Brown, the executive director of the Southside Community Land Trust, a nonprofit that supports community gardens and other urban agriculture in and around Providence, R.I. "It's exercise that has a context, that reinforces the limberness of your limbs and the use of your hands. You've got a motivation for why you want to grip. You're not just gripping a ball, you want to pull a weed."
Some research suggests that the physical activity associated with gardening can help lower the risk of developing dementia.
Two separate studies that followed people in their 60s and 70s for up to 16 years found, respectively, that those who gardened regularly had a 36% and 47% lower risk of dementia than non-gardeners, even when a range of other health factors were taken into account. These findings are hardly definitive, but they suggest that the combination of physical and mental activity involved in gardening may have a positive influence on the mind.
And for people who are already experiencing mental decline, even just walking in a garden may be therapeutic. Many residential homes for people with dementia now have "wander" or "memory" gardens on their grounds, so that residents with Alzheimer's disease or other cognitive problems can walk through them without getting lost. The sights, smells, and sounds of the garden are said to promote relaxation and reduce stress.