Health Lessons from the Garden – Part 2: Proven Stress Relief

Health Lessons from the Garden – Part 2: Proven Stress Relief

For those of us who like to get in the garden, you have probably found yourself, at one time or another, so deeply immersed in an activity that you’ve lost all sense of time- I love that feeling! Many gardeners call that “the zone” and although I’m ‘working’ in the garden, I feel incredible peace and joy in that time of simple focus, which is a lot the feeling you get when playing music or painting or drawing- everything else gets tuned-out.

Well, as it happens, it’s not just us gardeners feeling spacey… as of 2011 there has been evidence showing that gardening can provide significant relief from acute stress.

A study in the Netherlands tested 30 allotment (community garden) gardeners and their salivary cortisol levels and moods were repeatedly measured (cortisol is a hormone found naturally in your body that is released as a response to stress).

First, they had the gardeners perform a Stroop test- a popular neuropsychological test that looks into a person’s psychological capacities- and then assigned the gardeners to 30 minutes of either outdoor gardening or light indoor reading at their own garden plot.


What they found was that gardening and reading both led to decreases in cortisol, but gardening resulted in a significant decrease. Unlike the reading group, where peoples’ moods continued to decrease over the 30 minutes of light reading, the gardeners’ positive moods were all fully restored after the 30 minutes of gardening activity! 

I’d say those are great results for 30 minutes of work in the garden!

I’m not sure if there are yet proven links between stress levels and people developing dementia, but I want to mention this other significant study. If you are fifty plus and have access to a balcony or garden, please take note. A study was completed over a 16 year period following women and men in their sixties and seventies. Even when a range of other health factors were taken into account, the study found that people who gardened regularly had a 36% lower risk of developing dementia than non-gardeners.

Another great result! Let’s remember that taking quiet time for ourselves to breathe and to meditate, is not just about recovering from the stress we may feel in the moment- it has real and significant health benefits over the short and long term. Now garden-in-lovers, all you need to do is practice what you know : )

Stay tuned for our January Newsletter. If you haven’t signed up yet for our newsletter, you won’t want to miss this one- it’s packed with great ideas for your garden plan this year.

Happy garden planning everyone!

Health Lessons from the Garden – Gardening Akin to Meditation

Health Lessons from the Garden – Gardening Akin to Meditation

With the New Year here it’s an exciting time for everyone, despite the January blues in the Okanagan. Resolutions and goals have been made, and most of us are doing what we can, to stick to our plans for the year. Amidst all the recommendations out there for “how to realize your resolutions”, I thought I’d add my thoughts on one resolution that really would be worth keeping…and whaddya know…that would be gardening! Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be sharing with you the proven health benefits of gardening in the hope that, if you’d like to do more, or haven’t been drawn to it yet, that you might find it worth exploring more deeply this year.

I’m often teaching about “how to garden” but it’s rare that I talk about WHY it’s worth doing. I got into gardening for so many reasons, and I got hooked back in 2003 while developing a system and gardening-based curriculum for schools in the UK, as my final project at University. My research revealed so many great reasons about why everyone should be gardening and heaps of scientific research with positive results has been done since then. Here are just a few of the reasons why:

–     Studies have proven that gardening shares the same general health benefits of meditation including decreased stress, regulated blood pressure and improved mental health

–     Gardening is a great way to overcome the ‘nature deficit’ syndrome that most of our urbanized society is experiencing on a daily basis

–     Studies have shown that having contact with healthy soil can actually build your immune system

–     It is a fact that freshly harvested produce grown at home has more nutrients than store-bought produce; the sugars in many vegetables including peas and beans start turning to starch in a mere 4 hours after harvest.

This week, we will talk about the link between gardening and meditation. One thing I love about gardening is that it can be so relaxing and a great way to clear the mind. I am lucky enough to work mainly from home, and often during the spring and summer I’ll do some gardening during my lunch break; it’s a great way to take your brain down a gear. Likewise, if when you get home from work, you take just a few minutes to thin some plants, or literally stop and smell the flowers, it can help you immensely to de-stress.gnomes meditating

According to Clare Cooper- Professor Emeritus, MA, MCP, from the University of California at Berkeley, and one of the founders of environmental psychology, “When you are looking intensely at something, or you bend down to smell something, you bypass the [analytical] function of the mind.” You naturally stop thinking, obsessing and worrying; your senses are awakened, which brings you into the present moment, or as gardeners’ often call it ‘the zone’.

Try this:

I recommend allowing at least 3-5 minutes of puttering around the veggie beds or flower pots in the time between arriving home and being launched into the after-work errands, dinner or chores. These few minutes will help to place your mind in a more relaxed and open space- it’s the next best thing to stopping completely and meditating…but this way you get some gardening done too!

Next week, we’ll talk more about gardening and stress relief. In the meantime, have a great time dreaming up and planning your gardens for the year…the spring is coming fast – Carpe Diem as they say!