The pandemic and lockdown life has given everyone a new-found appreciation for green spaces and being outside. Whether you grabbed the chance to revamp your garden last year, channelled your energy into growing and gardening at home, invested in an allotment, or just took the time to enjoy being in your outdoor space; it is no coincidence that these were activities you were drawn to. It is also why it is no surprise that this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week focused on nature as its theme. Experts have long extolled the health benefits of gardening and connecting with nature. So, yes, the sun was shining, but gardening sales soared during lockdown because the nation instinctively turned to the outdoors for a wellbeing boost to combat the pressure of dealing with the fall-out of COVID.
As the virtues of gardening rise up the medical agenda, numerous studies have confirmed the link between horticulture and wellbeing. According to these reports, increasing people’s exposure to, and use of, green spaces has been linked to:
- long-term reductions in overall reported health problems (including heart disease, cancer and musculoskeletal conditions)
- reduced levels of obesity
- high physical activity
- higher self-rated mental health
The mental health benefits of gardening are found to be broad and diverse, with one report pointing out that studies have shown “significant reductions in depression and anxiety and improved social functioning”. Gardening has also been shown to reduce stress, increase the ability to concentrate and engage, improve mood, and even alleviate the symptoms of dementia.
An increasing number of organisations now use gardening as therapy and as part of rehabilitation programmes for people with debilitating illnesses or traumas, such as strokes, with reported improvements in motor, speech and cognitive skills. As the saying goes, “gardening adds years to your life and life to your years.”
Show you care/The power of love
A big part of the benefits gardening and, growing in particular, is about caring for and nurturing something. Turning your attention to a plant that needs your care in order to survive and then, watching it thrive as a result of your handiwork, is enough to give anyone a boost!
Studies found that gardening achievements provide a huge sense of satisfaction and empowerment, which help improve self-esteem and confidence. Grow-your-own has also seen a huge resurgence, which, obviously, has implications for healthier eating habits.
Gardening is a great way to keep fit. Did you know that pushing a lawn mower is considered moderate aerobic exercise, or that digging is classified as a strength-building activity? In fact, work in the garden can help you burn between 250 and 500 calories an hour! Weeding may be an unpopular chore but, according to Harvard Medical School, just 30 minutes could have you burning more than 170 calories, whilst half an hour of digging consumes between 150 and 222 calories, depending on your weight. If you’re using a hand mower, instead of a powered version, you’re clearly in for even more of a workout!
If getting down and dirty isn’t quite your thing and you would rather enjoy what your outdoor space has to offer without donning a pair of gardening gloves, then fear not. Studies show that exercising in nature, as opposed to a gym, leads to greater feelings of revitalisation and stress reduction, which makes physical activity feel less strenuous and motivates people to exercise for longer.
Welcome the wildlife
A lot of people admitted to taking a greater interest in the wildlife in their garden this past 18-months. In fact, many confessed that watching and caring for the birds and any other four or six-legged visitors helped keep them sane during lockdown, providing them with some form of meaningful connection and interaction.
According to The Wildlife Trusts, evidence shows that a thriving, wildlife-rich environment can benefit both physical and mental health, which is even more of a reason to turn your outdoor space into a haven for all creatures great and small.
Keep your feathered friends coming back for more by offering food, water for drinking and bathing, and areas for nesting. Leave a few pebbles or stones in your bird bath, so insects can take a drink too. You can even grow bird-friendly plants, like holly, ivy, and honeysuckle, which provide shelter and food for a wide range of birds.
Grow flowers that encourage pollinators and other beneficial insects, such as bees, hoverflies, and butterflies, to your garden. Take note: you need these minibeasts to help pollinate plants like strawberries, so don’t dismiss them too quickly! Cornflowers and other wildflower mixes are really attractive in the garden and will give you as much enjoyment as they will the bugs. If you’re feeling creative, you could try your hand at making an insect hotel.
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