On 9 October we celebrate South Africa’s first National Garden Day. Getting outdoors into the sunshine and fresh air is good for you – both physically and mentally. And, if you can add a spot of gardening, even better.
UK economist and behavioural scientist Professor Paul Dolan found that gardeners and florists have among the happiest jobs – and they’re nearly twice as happy as people in well paid or prestigious jobs. In fact, according to his book Happiness by Design, nearly nine out of 10 gardeners and florists say they are happy.
If that doesn’t get you out of the house and into the garden, here are five additional health benefits linked to gardening.
1. Get active
Exercise has many benefits: it improves oxygen and nutrient supply throughout your body, reduces high-blood pressure and the risk of cancer, and maintains bone density and muscle strength. Gardening is also a great way to get some exercise over the weekend – you’ll probably get a full-body workout depending on what you do. Weeding the grass? Your legs will benefit from the squatting. Carrying compost? Your arms and core are doing much of the work (just make sure you bend your knees when you pick up anything heavy).
2. Down and dirty
Getting your hands dirty exposes you to friendly bacteria, which can boost your immune system and even your mood. Our bodies actually need a balance of bacteria (the good kind) to be healthy.
3. Healing properties
Studies on the benefits of gardening have shown:
• It lowers blood pressure and can cut stroke and heart attack risk by up to 30% for those over 60.
• It can increase your brain activity and reverse “attention fatigue”.
• Gardening can have a calming effect on your mood and positively affect mental health. It also counters stress and anxiety.
• Plus, you’ll also feel a sense of purpose, satisfaction and achievement watching your plants grow.
4. Grow your own
We all know that we should eat fruit and vegetables every day, so why not grow your own? It’s rewarding to watch your greens grow, harvest them and then add to a healthy dish – and it sets a great example for children. Kale, for instance, has anti-cancer properties, 45 different antioxidant flavonoids, vitamin K and calcium, and is fairly easy to grow.
5. Pause for a minute
Gardening has even been credited as a type of meditation, which is great for mental health. Clare Cooper, Professor Emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley, and one of the founders of environmental psychology, says: “When you are looking intensely at something, or you bend down to smell something, you bypass the [analytical] function of the mind. You stop obsessing and worrying: your senses are awakened, you enter the present moment, you move to ‘the zone’.”