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Gardening makes you healthier

Your mental and physical health improves incrementally when you start gardening. And we don't say that lightly. We base this on an inspiring meta-study that appeared in Preventive Medicine Reports in 2017.

Gardening makes you healthier

Masashi Soga, a researcher from the University of Tokyo, traced 21 scientific publications in which researchers measured the health effects of gardening.

Most studies were trials in which researchers had one group of subjects garden and another group did not. Soga also found a number of observational studies that compared the health of a group of gardeners with a group of people without green fingers. Studies of the first type are usually more significant than studies of the second type.

Most studies found positive trends when it came to physical or psychological health effects. These ranged from a reduction in body weight, heart rate and cortisol level to a decrease in feelings of fatigue, tension, depression and anxiety.

Not all studies found statistically significant associations, but Soga's sum of all outcomes did.

Click on the figure below for a larger version.

Gardening makes you healthier

Soga could not deduce from his meta-data how exactly gardening promotes health, but based on the scientific literature he formulated two possible mechanisms. One is that gardening involves physical activity, and exercise is healthy. As a rule of thumb, the more you move, the better your health.

A second possible explanation, which by the way does not exclude the first, is that gardeners eat healthier because of their garden. A garden supplies fresh vegetables, fruit and herbs, which can greatly improve the quality of the diet. This is especially true if the yield of a garden does not contain pesticide residues.

We ourselves, unimpeded by relevant expertise, are happy to put forward our own theory. It's only relevant to the mental effects of gardening, but still. In a way we don't fully understand, gardening increases the activity of the 'brain growth hormone' BDNF.

"With an increasing demand for reduction of health care costs worldwide, our findings have important policy implications", conclude Soga and his colleagues.

How gardening improves brain function

"The results presented here suggest that gardening can improve physical, psychological, and social health, which can, from a long-term perspective, alleviate and prevent various health issues facing today's society."

"We therefore suggest that government and health organizations should consider gardening as a beneficial health intervention and encourage people to participate in regular exercise in gardens."

Prev Med Rep. 2016 Nov 14;5:92-9.

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