Getting green and growing is the cure when you’re feeling blue
Reasons to do a bit more gardening
Next time you’re feeling under the weather — a few aches and pains or just stressed out and down in the dumps — don’t reach for a packet of pills, grab your garden fork instead. We’ve gathered evidence from dozens of studies on how gardening affects your health and there’s only one conclusion: gardening is incredibly good for you. Here are five gardening prescriptions that you can use to improve your health right now. There’s no better excuse to get into the garden — it’s doctor’s orders!
How: Planting containers (sitting); pruning, raking and mowing (standing).
Why: “Part of the treatment for any balance problem is physical exercise,” says London general practitioner Dr Sam Everington. “If you’re in a dark space it’s not so effective, but if you’re outside in good light it’s far better. In a garden you’re in a safe space, too.” Light physical exercise encourages good balance. Regular gardeners are 30% less likely to have falls than other adults.
How: Sowing seeds, pinching out seedlings, deadheading, planting broad beans.
Why: Fiddly gardening tasks hone fine motor skills, such as the “pincer” movements you make when fastening a button or writing. One study found that, after gardening twice a week, women in Korea developed better dexterity than a non-gardening group.
How: Pricking out seedlings, tying in sweet peas, planting hanging baskets.
Why: You’re constantly bending down and stretching up when you’re gardening, and that helps keep joints supple and flexible. Gardeners who garden at least once a week stay more mobile for longer. During “Sow and Grow”, a three-year outreach programme, British horticultural therapy charity Thrive used techniques like tabletop gardening and adapted tools so visitors with mobility-limiting disabilities such as multiple sclerosis could keep gardening. As a result, they found mobility improved measurably.
How: Digging, wheeling wheelbarrows, raking, hoeing, cutting hedges, planting trees.
Why: More intense activities in gardening do wonders for upper body strength. Chief medical officers in the UK list gardening alongside weight training and sit-ups as activities for strengthening muscles. In the US, elderly gardeners are shown to have stronger hands than the norm. Craig Lister of the Green Gym, a free outdoor conservation project in the UK, says the benefits last: “People are continuing to be more physically active even when they’re not volunteering at a Green Gym session.” SELF-ESTEEM
How: Growing produce, spending a day in the garden. Why: Just five minutes gardening outside gives you an improved sense of self-esteem, but it’s highest after a full day’s gardening. Children involved in after-school gardening clubs develop the confidence to overcome their fear of touching creatures such as worms or beetles, while women in particular felt an increase in self-esteem in working their allotment gardens and providing for their families by taking home fruit and vegetables.
October 21 is Garden Day. Garden Day aims to unite South Africans by creating a day where everyone can celebrate and enjoy their gardens together. For more information, visit www.gardenday. co.za