Many people like to garden because they like spending time outside and seeing their effort pay off when plants grow or enjoy eating vegetables and herbs that they produce. While all these are definitely positive outcomes, they aren’t the only ones you can experience. Are there physical gains that can result from gardening? What about mental health?

Multiple studies in recent years have shown that spending time in nature can significantly impact health and wellness. When exposed to calm, green environments, our cortisol levels go down, reducing the amount of stress we’re feeling.

In addition, research has found evidence that being in, or even being able to look out at, a green landscape is linked with better recovery from surgery and less anxiety and depression.

Some have started referring to the experience of being immersed in green as “forest bathing.” The good news is that you don’t have to go to a real forest to have the experience. You can reap the positive benefits by just sitting in your yard.

However, the best way to get the most out of your time outside is to garden. The main reason is that you’re much more likely to be outside consistently to tend to your garden. In addition, gardening has numerous benefits.

Burn calories. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you can burn about 330 calories doing one hour of light gardening and yard work, which is more than walking at a moderate pace for the same amount of time. Some activities, such as raking and cutting grass, fall under light to moderate exercise, while shoveling, digging, and chopping wood is considered vigorous exercise.

When working in a garden, you’re likely to use every major muscle group. Just be mindful of your body position and be careful with repetitive motions. Gardening requires you to make precise movements, which helps build your hand strength and dexterity; make sure to use both your left and right hands. Many people have chronic pain in their joints, which makes them get stiff and less likely to move because it causes more pain. It forms an endless loop. Gardening can help alleviate some of this stiffness.

The more physically active you are, the better your blood pressure usually is. A 12-year Swedish study of 4,000 adults over 60 found that physical activities, such as gardening, helped cut the risk of heart attack or stroke by up to 30%. In fact, gardening provides as many health benefits as regular, more intense exercise. All it takes is 30 minutes of moderate-level physical activity most days of the week to prevent and control high blood pressure. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute actually recommends gardening or raking leaves for 30-45 minutes a day to reach that goal.

Get more vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for hundreds of body functions, including strengthening your bones, helping your immune system, and reducing the chances of cancer, such as breast cancer, colorectal cancer, bladder cancer, prostate cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and multiple sclerosis.

Spending time outside is a great way to get your body to make the vitamin D it needs to function. When your skin is exposed to sunlight, it prompts your body to make vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium. It’s estimated that a half-hour in the sun can produce between 8,000 and 50,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D, depending on how much clothing you’re wearing and your skin color.

Eat healthier. If you grow a vegetable garden, you’re more likely to eat healthier because you have access to fresh, healthy produce. Even though the Dietary Guidelines recommend getting at least 2 cups of vegetables and 1½ cups of fruits per day, only 1 in 10 American adults achieve that goal, according to the CDC.

With gardening, you can harvest a considerable amount of vegetables that can be saved through canning or freezing to be enjoyed throughout the year. This can significantly reduce grocery costs while providing you with essential nutrients. The good news is there are many types of vegetables that are easy to grow, seeds aren’t usually super expensive, you can create your own fertilizer out of scraps from your kitchen, and collect rainwater to keep your plants watered.

You can explore new flavors and varieties because there are a lot of vegetables and herbs that aren’t available in the grocery store, often because they don’t ship well.

Reduce depression. One unexpected benefit of gardening is that you get exposed to good bacteria. Studies show that these bacteria can stimulate your brain to release serotonin (the feel-good chemical). This helps can boost your immune system and fights off symptoms of depression. The connection between your immune system and brain is called the hygiene hypothesis.

A 2017 meta-analysis of 22 case studies published in Preventive Medicine Reports found that gardening is positively correlated with reducing depression and anxiety symptoms. A study published in 2011 had people with depression participate in a gardening intervention for 12 weeks. Next, researchers measured several aspects of their mental health, including depression symptoms, finding that all of them were significantly improved. Those improvements lasted for months. It should be no surprise that some hospitals use planting and flower arranging as a type of rehabilitation for people recovering from injuries, strokes, surgeries, addiction, and other conditions.

Decrease stress. A different 2011 study looked at the correlation between stress and gardening. A group of researchers exposed study participants to a stressful activity. Next, they asked half the group to spend time quietly reading and the other half gardening. Afterward, when researchers tested the cortisol (stress hormone) levels, they found that the gardening group had recovered from the stress better.

The gardening group also reported that their moods had returned to a positive state, while fewer readers had. The 2017 meta-analysis also connected gardening with increases in quality of life and reductions in mood disturbance. Gardening is a great self-esteem booster because you plant the seeds; water, weed, and fertilize your garden; and watch it grow, knowing that you’re responsible for the outcome. This means it can also give you a sense of purpose.

Improve sleep. When it comes to sleep, gardening can have a significant positive impact. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that people who garden are more likely to get a solid 7 hours of sleep each night. It does this by physically wearing you out and helping to clear your head of anxious or stressful thoughts. Both of these can help you fall asleep faster and have better quality sleep.

Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is a state of focusing on the present moment, which you can achieve by gardening since you often need to dedicate your full attention to the task at hand. Gardening can feed your senses. For example, NASA used gardening to help astronauts fight sensory deprivation and ease the boredom and isolation of long missions. Using LED lights, they had space station crews grow zucchini, zinnias, sunflowers, soybeans, and more. The astronauts said they looked forward to checking their plants each day and were surprised at how seeing the bright colors helped during weeks of dark orbit.

Learn to improvise and be creative. Gardening can be a good antidote for perfectionism because no matter how carefully you plan and execute your garden, there are countless factors you can’t predict. This makes gardening an excellent opportunity to develop a “growth” mindset, someone who is constantly learning.

For instance, when something doesn’t work out the way you hoped, view it as a learning opportunity rather than a “failure.” Through your mistakes, you can understand what happened and why, and you can be empowered to relate that learning to new things.” Also, the more you accept the limits of your control and the unpredictability of life, the more peace of mind you’ll have. This doesn’t mean giving up. Instead, bring your best efforts to what you can control and let go of the rest.

Another significant benefit of gardening is that you can be creative because you must figure out how to lay out your garden or which items will grow better together.

Keep your memory sharp. Your memory also gets a boost because you have to remember everything you need to do in your garden, especially if you have a more extensive garden. New data shows that gardening may spur growth in your brain’s memory-related nerves. Researchers from Korea gave 20-minute gardening activities to people being treated for dementia. After the participants had raked and planted in vegetable gardens, they showed increased amounts of some brain nerve growth factors associated with memory.

A survey of older adults by Texas A&M and Texas State universities found that gardeners have more optimism and energy, better health, and greater life satisfaction than nongardeners.

Bond with family, friends, and others. Gardening gives you a chance to create bonds because it’s something that almost everyone can participate in. It’s a fun, and stress-free way to teach responsibility to kids by allowing them to each have area of the garden they’re in charge of. They’ll learn what happens if they let weeds overtake their garden or if you don’t water the plants correctly.

Gardening provides a source of community through school gardens and community gardens. Working in a garden with people of different ages, abilities, and backgrounds is a great way to expand what you know and who you know. It has as much to do with human interaction as with the produce.

Stay connected to the world. Often, many people feel united in a visceral way when they eat food they’ve just harvested. It allows you to be much more aware of the elements, like the first and last frosts of the season, how much rain you’ve had, the temperature, where sunlight falls throughout the day, and the cycle of the seasons.

The awareness of the environment is helping people realize the importance and impact we’re having on the climate, leading many to create a garden with the aim of mitigating climate change. There are various ways to do this, such as using manual tools; using drip lines, rain barrels, and mulch to cut your water consumption; composting to reduce waste and decrease methane production; and planting trees to absorb carbon dioxide.

You can also turn your yard into a Certified Wildlife Habitat and encourage your neighbors to do the same.

Are you ready to start a garden?

Even if you don’t know what to do, the first step is to decide that you’re going to have one. The key is to start slow because it’s easy to get excited and plant too much, meaning you could feel overwhelmed and discouraged. Remember, you can always add to your garden over time. A considerable first step is to grow something in a container that you can put close to your house. This will be easy to take care of, and you’ll enjoy seeing it every day.

The first thing to focus on is healthy soil. It starts from the ground up when it comes to successful gardening. You want to avoid synthetic chemicals. Instead, feed the soil with organic material, including compost, shredded leaves, shredded bark, or aged manure.

When choosing what to grow, select the things that you like to eat. First, choose items that grow easily and quickly. Before planting, read the plant tag to know if it likes sun or shade and wet or dry. This way, you can give it the environment it needs to thrive.

It would be best to spend at least a little time observing what’s happening in your garden every day. This will allow you to be aware of a problem, and hopefully, you can prevent more extensive problems.

Some safety tips to consider:

  • Pay attention to product directions when using any chemicals (some pesticides, weed killers, and fertilizers can be dangerous if used incorrectly)
  • Always wear gloves, goggles, long pants, closed-toe shoes, and other safety gear, especially if you’re using sharp tools
  • Listen to your body since it’s easy to get injured when you’re carrying bags of mulch and hoisting shovels full of dirt.
  • Use bug spray and sunscreen
  • Drink lots of water and take frequent shade breaks to prevent overheating
  • Make sure you have a tetanus vaccination once every ten years since tetanus lives in the soil
  • Keep a close eye on children

Gardening is one of the healthiest hobbies you can develop because it isn’t just about making your house look good; it can do wonders for your well-being!