father and son gardening

Gardening used to have a fairly negative stereotype: it’s something you do when you’re retired, it’s a relatively boring activity that only older people seem to enjoy. But during the last ten to fifteen years, gardening has exploded in popularity.

According to the UK’s telegraph, gardening is now ‘cool’, with millennials, in particular, joining the gardening bandwagon. 77% of households practice some form of gardening, a record level. And the Covid-19 pandemic has put the rise of the home garden into overdrive.

One of the main drivers for the nurtured garden’s popularity is the evidence-based message that gardening leads to improved mental health. And this works on several levels, four of which are explored in more detail below.

Sunlight Can Correct Your Body’s Chemical Imbalances

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is commonly referred to as “winter depression”, and can lead to low mood, increased irritability, lethargy and sleepiness, an inability to get a good night’s sleep, and weight gain, amongst other symptoms.

SAD is generally linked to insufficient exposure to (natural) sunlight. This works in three ways: a) the hormone that regulates your sleep cycle is overproduced, leading to lethargy and lack of energy, b) decrease in the production of serotonin, the hormone that affects your sleep, mood, and appetite, and c) your circadian rhythm is thrown out of sync, disrupting your internal body clock.

The antidote to SAD is to ensure you get plenty of sunshine, even through the colder fall and winter months. Gardening several times a week can help your body to produce melatonin and serotonin at the right levels, and correct your circadian rhythm, leading to improved mental health.

Healthy Veggies = Mood Boosters

Growing your own veggies is a fantastic way of boosting your mood. First, you’ll be eating something you’ve grown yourself. It’s not magically appeared on your plate via a plastic-wrapped product bought from the supermarket. Instead, your garden patch veggies have been nurtured literally from the ground to your plate. It creates a far healthier and satisfying eating experience.

In addition, certain fruits and vegetables offer chemicals and vitamins that improve your mood on a chemical level. Blackberries, kale, broccoli, and spinach, amongst others, are fantastic sources of an organic vitamin boost. Increased production of serotonin, for example, is a common byproduct of eating your 5 a day.

Disrupt Your (Negative) Relationship with Technology

Research is increasingly indicating that there is a strong link between anxiety, depression, feelings of loneliness, and the average person’s overdependence on their smartphones. We’re pretty sure you’ve experienced any one of the following (or even all of them!):

  • FOMO. You see your friends spending time with each other, where was your invite? You go to events simply because you know others will be posting on Facebook, you don’t want to miss out. You’re out at a party or out for dinner with friends, but you still scroll through social media to see what others are up to.
  • Low self-esteem. You watch other people going on fancy holidays, in happy relationships, celebrating new jobs, graduating; but your life just doesn’t compare. You start feeling you’re not good enough, and your self-esteem plummets.
  • Loneliness. You have hundreds of ‘friends’ on Facebook, but yet you still feel you can count the number of true friends with just your fingers and toes.
  • You check your phone every 5 seconds. You’re constantly on your phone. If you don’t have it near you, a sense of panic overwhelms you.

In short, you need to disrupt this negative relationship you have with your phone. Gardening is a fantastic way to unplug from technology, even if it’s just for half an hour at a time. Make a rule: put your phone in a drawer somewhere when you garden and spend time with nature. You’ll soon realize you don’t need your phone as a constant companion, and the time you spend with nature will give you a mood boost that’s far superior to your Instagram feed.

The Physical Exercise

The link between physical exercise and mental health is long-established. It leads to improved mood, it’s a stress reliever, and can be particularly helpful for those who experience anxiety, depression, ADHD, and other conditions. It also leads to improved sleep and increased energy levels.

Gardening is a great way of getting the physical exercise you need to improve your health across the board. People think of gardening as a retiree’s hobby, something that’s light and relatively easy to do. Not so fast. Gardening can actually provide you with a fantastic workout, often burning more calories than you think.

For example, mowing the lawn can burn almost 500 calories per hour. Laying turf and gravel is also not to be sneezed at, burning around 450 per hour. Even something as simple as planting bulbs can burn up to 350 calories. In addition, gardening tools can help develop a wide range of muscle groups.

Every Little Helps

Some people will read this article and conclude that they don’t have the time or money to tend to a garden. But the truth is that gardening can be as time-consuming and expensive as you make it.

Even if you just have 15 minutes a day to tend to your plants, or just a small balcony or window ledge to nurture a tiny vegetable patch, it’s still worth doing. The benefits will still be real and you’ll notice them over time. Give it a try, I promise you won’t regret it!


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