Give gardening a go for good health
Maintaining good health is all about the balance between eating the right food (in the right amounts) and exercising both body and mind.
For those of us who shrivel at the thought of donning lycra and ‘hitting the gym’, it’s refreshing to know that gardening can not only be beneficial to our mental health, but it can give your body a pretty substantial workout too.
Author William Bird, a GP for over 30 years and the Strategic Health Advisor for Natural England, has been a long time advocate for preventing illness through use of the natural environment.
Being acutely aware of the detrimental effect that living in concrete jungles has on our wellbeing, he has been vociferous in urging family doctors to prescribe gardening to prevent the onset of many diseases. With the World Health Organisation pinpointing ‘inactivity’ as the fourth-leading cause of death in the world, it seems the goal of encouraging people to become less sedentary needs a very different approach.
With research showing that physically touching soil and plants has a dramatic effect on reducing stress, and Dr Bird’s claim that: “every £1 spent on access to community outdoor schemes could save the health service £5 in other treatments,” it seems gardening could deliver far more benefits than we ever thought possible.
In the North of England, there are a group of Leeds health practitioners who have already ‘seen the light,’ and have started a an allotment scheme for patients. The scheme not only gets patients moving outdoors (which keeps them healthy and provides them with vitamin D), the fruit and vegetables they grow also encourage healthy eating patterns.
Research shows that the human body has a physiological reaction to entering an outdoor environment, so much so that within minutes of being in a garden, muscle tension and blood pressure reduces and stress levels subside. This ultimately prevents the release of cell-damaging free radicals. Damaged cells cause untold harm in our bodies, resulting in premature aging, diabetes, heart disease, dementia and arthritis to name but a few afflictions.
As we get older, our access to fitness becomes limited, and although we hear about incredible feats of nature in the media (take the marathon runner aged 101), the majority of the older generation find it difficult to exercise due to health or mobility issues. The charity Thrive’s Chief Executive Nicola Carruthers, states:
"Using gardening to improve people's health is a wonderful way to enhance wellbeing, both physically and mentally. People of all ages and abilities can benefit from a sustained and active interest in gardening."
Thrive endorse the standpoint that pushing a lawn mower, digging up weeds and stretching to prune trees and hedges, uses muscle groups all over the body. This equates to an energetic workout.
Motivation is also less of an issue with gardening, as it can be with exercise. With plants that need watering and taking care of to survive, the ‘get up and go’ mentality is soon forthcoming, and the resulting ‘harvest’ of either flora or fauna seems to produce bigger rewards than counting calories and performing bicep curls.
With gardening being regarded as a hobby, not an exercise, the derived health benefits are so much sweeter.