By Bev Johnson

Master Gardener

Therapeutic gardening is the practice of gardening as a means to promote better health and wellbeing according to Harvard Medical school. This article is based on info from their Women’s Health Watch flyer.

Gardening is as effective on the body, mind, and soul as is traditional exercise. It’s an activity where you literally reap what you sow. Here is why.

It gets you moving. Researchers divided 291 adults into women who had never gardened and gardeners. Half of each were assigned to garden, and half were to wait a year to start. The gardeners increased their physical activity by 45 minutes a week, about a quarter of the recommended 150 minutes per week. Gardening is considered moderate intensity exercise that burns 330 calories an hour. This must just be pulling weeds and not hauling rocks in the wheelbarrow or moving big bags of fertilizer or potting soil or even walking behind the tiller.

It improves your diet. Average recommended daily fiber intake is 30 grams a day. Most people only eat about half of that. Gardeners eat about 1.4 grams a day. I wonder if that includes the dirt still on that freshly pulled carrot.

It may fight off illness. A 2021 study published in The Journals of Gerontology suggests that people who garden may experience less age-related decline in immune system effectiveness. They have lower levels of low-grade inflammation that can make one a more risk to cardiovascular diseases, cancer and inflammatory diseases. Since gardening may cut stress, this helps our immune systems function optimally.

It smooths mood. Gardening can interrupt repetitive thoughts that can lead to depression.  Any gardener will tell you that when you garden, your mind goes on vacation. Gardening lowers stress, anxiety and depression in otherwise healthy women who attended a twice weekly gardening class for 4 weeks. None of the 32 had gardened before. They reported less anxiety and lower levels of depression and stress.

It sharpens your brain.  A 2019 study suggests that even a single burst of gardening significantly improves brain nerve growth, which is important to staying sharp. When you garden, you need to stay focused. You are also relying on your memory. You’re continually stimulating your brain cells.

It fertilizes relationships. When you have too many zucs, tomatoes, melons, what have you, you pass the extras on to friends and family, strengthening bonds in the process. Community gardening turns into a social activity as does gardening clubs and Master Gardeners groups all relationships that are critically important to being happy.

You always knew gardening was good for you and now these studies reaffirm it. Go out and get your hands dirty. If Harvard says it, it must be true.