July 30, 2014 Healthy Living

A Return to Nature and Sanity

What is it about a garden that works so well to improve one’s mood? Well, first there is the warmth of the sunshine. Mmmm…already you are relaxing! Add the music of birdsong, fragrant flowers, a cooling breeze—paradise.

But wait, why are you going indoors already? There are weeds to be pulled and beans that need harvesting! True gardening will bring you to your knees, make you sweat, and wear you out. This is enjoyable? Oddly, yes.

In a 2010 Dutch experiment, gardeners whose stress levels had first been deliberately elevated with a difficult task reported feeling significantly happier after 30 minutes of light gardening. Control subjects who sat inside and engaged in pleasant reading after the same stressful event did not experience a sustained boost in mood.

Both forms of activity reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol, but the reduction was much greater for the gardeners. Researchers concluded that interacting productively with nature works well to restore a healthy status after the emotional wear-and-tear of a stressful day.

Horticultural therapy is a growing field whose therapists use gardening to help their patients overcome anxiety and depression, as well as physical ailments. In a study underway at the University of Copenhagen, researchers are working to discover whether behavioral health sessions delivered in a “healing garden” are better than traditional talk therapy delivered indoors.

Obviously, tending a home garden is a little more demanding than taking deep inhalations and sitting in the lotus position on a sun-warmed rock. But you can bring the feel-good factor to your backyard labors:

  • Commit to spending a few minutes outside each day. A little fresh air, vitamin D, and exercise can work wonders.
  • Place a small bench or chair in a shady spot so you can relax and observe the beauty you have created.
  • Grow things you can eat and share with others. Herbs are edible, good for you, and offer their own aromatherapy.
  • Consider flowers that can be dried and reused in crafts. You’ll be able to revisit your gardening experience when the weather is no longer nice.

With all that gardening has to offer—physical exercise, a creative outlet, and an opportunity to enjoy the beauties of nature—it really is a hobby that can improve your health. You might even get some delicious homegrown vegetables out of the deal!


Meg Hughes
About the Author

Meg had been with the CDPHP communications department since 2000 and recently retired from her position as the senior editor. Her previous editorial service includes more than a decade with health plans Kaiser Permanente and CHP and four years with a weekly newspaper. Meg is also a long-time gardener and former horticulture professional with experience working for area greenhouses and growers. Meg earned a bachelor’s degree in English from St. Lawrence University.

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