Gardening for good health

Gardening for good health

Ellen Mary GardenWe’ve all read the well discussed benefits of gardening – great exercise, fresh air, a much needed boost of Vitamin D – the list is endless. But with the ever taboo subject of mental health, how and why can gardening help?

“Do we appreciate just how much it helps our mind?”

Potatoes in soilUntil you’ve really experienced it, perhaps it isn’t so obviously apparent. Whilst we all feel a great satisfaction from growing our own food or admiring our well tended gardens, do we really appreciate just how much it helps our mind? Some years ago I was dealt a blow with some health issues, which eventually accumulated into a total change of direction in life. It wasn’t expected and it was a miserable few years. I am a positive, forward thinking person and I never let it define me, but it was hard physically but mainly, mentally. Getting out in the garden or down the allotment was a must for me. It wasn’t until some years later when I realised just how much gardening kept me going in so many more ways than I had realised. It kept my mind focused, it kept me physically fit and it was my unexpected therapy.

“it provides a sense of purpose, a connection with something more, something bigger”

ComposterIt wasn’t just because I could have laid on the sofa sulking but the allotment needed digging over, or the times I’d rather have a lay in but seedlings needed thinning out, it was so much more than that. When you face tough times, it provides a sense of purpose, a connection with something more, something bigger than the problems you face. Its a profound sense of how nature works and our connection with it. It might not be apparent at the time, as we busily sow seeds, mow the lawn and pretty up our patios. Or, even when we get the immense satisfaction from digging up our home grown potatoes or cooking our freshly picked aubergines. All of these aspects of gardening subconsciously help us to connect with something bigger than us.

I’ve always been interested in the benefits of soil to humans. There’s nothing like walking in the garden bare foot! A study by the University of Bristol and UCL found that soil could have similar effects on the brain as antidepressants to lift the mood, due to being exposed to the friendly bacteria in soil.

“it helps us switch off ‘other stuff'”

The psychotherapist, Hilda Burke, noted that gardening is an activity helping to pass time without noticing because we don’t think over things and that it helps us to switch off ‘other stuff’ allowing us to be present in the moment. It seems to me, gardening is a very natural way of practicing the art of mindfulness. There has also been a number of studies which have shown the benefits of gardening for patients with Dementia and Alzheimers.

So its great news that some GPs in South London already prescribe gardening time to help with both physical and mental health issues, something I hope becomes a standard through-out the UK.

That old saying is so true…’Gardening, cheaper than therapy – plus you get tomatoes’!

Ellen Mary Gardening
August 2016

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