The healthy benefits of gardening in the great outdoors

    Gardening is not only beneficial to our wellbeing but good for the soul too. The Times’ gardening correspondent Victoria Truman examines how a little weeding and planting can lift your spirits

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    Researchers have found that gardening is actually beneficial to your health. In fact, it has been found that pulling weeds and smelling roses can lower blood pressure, help you feel happier, and increase brain activity.

    Because of this overwhelming body of evidence, we now have something that has been dubbed ‘horticulture therapy’, which is used in a variety of settings to help people cope with their emotions and illnesses. Most notably, it’s being used in hospitals, schools, and even in prisons. The idea is gaining such momentum, that this summer at the Hampton Court Flower show, experts from a wide range of fields came together to discuss the positive effects gardening can have on both chronic health conditions and bringing the community together.

    One of them was the Royal Horticultural Society’s Director General Sue Biggs who spoke candidly about the positive effects gardening had on her recovery from breast cancer.

    “It’s not just about gardening and horticulture, it’s also about happiness,” she said. “I can’t think of a better thing to make people happy – especially during these tough times at the moment – and I think gardening is it. It is just a joy.”

    Within the United Kingdom, there are pilot schemes taking place in which GPs provide gardening to their patients when they feel they can benefit from it.

    From a personal point of view whenever I need to feel recharged or I’m in need of escaping I head out into my garden and spend the day working in it, weeding, mowing, clipping – seldom sitting! By the end I’m happy, aching, recharged and full of new ideas and designs.

    Another study, published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that active hobbies like yard work and gardening were as good as going to the gym for heart health. Older adults with hobbies like this were able to cut their risk of heart attack or stroke and their chances of dying from any cause by 30%.

    When you walk out into a garden and you literally smell the roses, see the bees buzzing on the lavender, all that instantly uplifts the soul and mood.

    As a nation, we like walking outside and I regularly see walkers passing by my property, always happy and cheery. The people I deal with and work with in my field are helpful, engaging, free spirited and for the most part relaxed and I am pretty sure that’s down to the amount of time we all spend engaging our senses with gardens, landscapes, plants and trees.

    Gardening

    Reasons why gardening is good for your health:

    • Gardening burns calories and is considered moderate to high-intensity exercise. You can burn up to 330 calories during just one hour of light gardening and yard work — more than lifting weights for the same amount of time.
    • The National Institute of Health goes so far as to recommend 30 to 45 minutes of gardening three to five times a week as part of a good strategy.
    • Gardening decreases the likelihood of osteoporosis. When you dig, plant, weed, and engage in repetitive tasks that require strength or stretching, all of the major muscle groups are getting a good work out.
    • Gardening is a stress buster. In a study in the Netherlands, two groups of students were told to either read indoors or garden for 30 minutes after completing a stressful task. The group that gardened reported being in a better mood than the group that read. And they also exhibited lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
    • Being surrounded by flowers improves one’s health. In behavioural research conducted at Rutgers University by Jeanette M. Haviland-Jones, Ph.D., the results showed that flowers are a natural and healthy moderator of moods and have an immediate impact on happiness, long term positive effects on mood, and makes for more intimate connections between individuals.
    • The act of gardening enables us to enter the ‘zone’, also known as an altered state of consciousness – similar to what a jogger or one who practices yoga or mediation can experience.
    • Gardening strengthens your immune system. While you’re outdoors basking in the sun, you’ll also soak up plenty of vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. In turn, calcium helps keep your bones strong and your immune system healthy.
    • So if you have any green space and want to feel good inside and outside (once the aching subsides) get gardening!

    Top tips for August:

    1 Check clematis for signs of clematis wilt
    2 Care for houseplants while on holiday
    3 Water tubs and new plants if dry, but be water-wise
    4 Deadhead bedding plants and repeat-flowering perennials, to ensure continuous flowering
    5 Pick courgettes before they become marrows
    6 Treat apple scab
    7 Clear algae, blanket weeds and debris from ponds, and keep them topped up
    8 Order catalogues for next year’s spring-flowering bulbs
    9 Give the lawn a quick-acting summer feed, especially if not given a spring feed
    10 Harvest apricots, peaches and nectarines

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