Gardening and spending time outside has some immense benefits for the mind, body and soul, from vitamins, hormones, bacteria, energy, and instinctual and chemical reactions to physical fitness, happiness, and health.
It’s no secret that many people around the world enjoy gardening, from toddlers growing a vegetable garden with their parents, to retirees tending to their flower gardens. But what does gardening do for us, and why do we do it?
The simplest answers to the question are that it strengthens us psychologically and physically. The act of keeping something alive makes us feel accomplished, and going outside and getting sun helps us absorb vitamins and stay healthy. Everyone assumes this is as deep as it goes, but that’s just scratching the surface.
One of the more complex answers involves hormones. There are many reasons why people around the world enjoy gardening so much, but when it comes down to it, it’s the release of serotonin and dopamine in our brains that draws us to continue to work at keeping our plants alive. According to a study done in 2013 published by Behavioural Process, there is a bacterium in soil called Mycobacterium vaccae, and results have shown that contact with this bacteria can help lower anxiety and depression in mice. Depression is associated with a lack of serotonin in the brain. This is said to be why so many people enjoy getting their hands dirty in the garden, releasing serotonin in the prefrontal cortex.
Other than hormones, another theory that might help explain why humans seem to be so drawn to plants and dirt is a concept called ‘earthing’ or ‘grounding’. According to the proponents of this theory, we are harmed by modern day society in which we don’t find ourselves connecting with the ground and earth much. We’re often inside, standing on shoes, concrete or wood, but the act of standing or walking barefoot on raw, bare land connects us to the earth. According to the Earthing Institute, skin contact with any raw earth or land – such as the beach, a grass field, a forest, or your own garden – can help people feel and look healthier, lower insomnia and stress, lower inflammation, and help with many other medical issues.
The science on this is not yet widely accepted, but aspects of the theory do have some support. For example, according to a study led by affiliates of Harvard Medical School, when children are exposed to microbes at a young age, it can prevent the development of allergies and autoimmune diseases.
Generally speaking, contact with nature in general is well-known to have benefits.
In fact, for years, doctors in Canada have been prescribing nature walks for people experiencing mental health issues, and recently a partnership with Parks Canada Agency has allowed doctors to hand out national park, marine conservation area, and historic location passes to those who are in need of some time in nature, or time with loved ones.
Besides nature walks, gardening has some more emotional benefits. Many people enjoy gardening with their families and loved ones because it creates a deeper emotional connection, and the stress relief and happiness that comes with gardening is amplified when you’re spending time with someone important to you.
Regardless of the underlying reasons, there is no doubt that for many, gardening is simply fun.
A 71-year-old gardener from Lynden, Washington told 8forty, “There’s nothing like being outside and playing with the dirt – then watching the plants pop through the ground. So rewarding!”
cover image: flickr