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"Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made by singing: 'Oh, how beautiful!' and sitting in the shade," Rudyard Kipling, the author of the famous Jungle Book, wrote, adding that "the Glory of the Garden lies in more than meets the eye". Appreciating a good garden is certainly a pleasant experience, but the real magic can be found only when getting down onto your knees and helping create one.
Gardeners have been saying it for years: digging in the dirt and planting things keeps the mind refreshed and the body young. A gardener myself, I couldn't agree more. Don't take my word for it, though, as a rather interesting body of research on the health benefits of gardening has now emerged. That, too, has its limits of course.
It's Official: Gardening Offers Excellent Stress Relief
"Obviously," you may think to yourself. Gardening is a leisure activity, a hobby, that many people pick up. Everyone knows that taking a break from the daily drag by engaging in activities you enjoy is going to relieve stress. Is that all there is to it, though?
Researchers from the Netherlands recruited 30 study subjects and induced stress in them by subjecting them to a Stroop test, something widely used in experimental psychology and essentially designed to confuse the brain. They were then assigned allotment gardens, which came with a little house near the plots. Some participants were asked to go read something indoors, while others were asked to spend some time gardening.
The researchers concluded:
"Salivary cortisol levels and self-reported mood were repeatedly measured. Gardening and reading each led to decreases in cortisol during the recovery period, but decreases were significantly stronger in the gardening group. Positive mood was fully restored after gardening, but further deteriorated during reading."
Keep in mind that we are talking not about people who already knew they enjoyed gardening and chose it freely, but about randomly assigned study subjects here, as well as that we aren't talking about subjectively reported feelings of stress relief, but scientifically-measured lower stress levels!
Stating The Obvious: Gardening Gives You Exercise
The many different activities that can be involved in gardening, from weeding and planting to mowing the lawn, raking leaves, and trimming bushes and trees, engage numerous muscle groups throughout the body. While gardening, you'll assume countless different postures, get in plenty of walking, and get up and down many times. While not all types of gardening will give you the same awesome workout you might get the gym, it certainly can — as long as you're doing all the activities needed to keep a garden in good shape, and not just a few of them.
What's more, gardening also keeps hand strength and dexterity strong — a whole other kind of exercise!