Gardening my look like a calm and slow-paced activity, but while you’re out there digging a hole for your strawberry plants, you’re actually gaining a ton of health benefits without realizing it.
Researchers have found evidence of a number of ways gardening nourishes both the mind and body—and not just for you, but for your entire community.
1. Gardening burns about 170 calories per half an hour (for a 155-pound person).
Working in the garden is a surprisingly good exercise, so it’s no surprise that gardeners tend to have a lower BMI (body mass index) than non-gardeners.
A 2013 study in American Journal of Public Health assessed participants in a community garden and found that their BMIs were “significantly lower” than their neighbors who were not in the program, and they were less likely to be overweight or obese.
2. Gardening helps you get your vitamin D.
The “sunshine vitamin” improves your absorption of calcium to keep bones strong. Many foods (like milk and soy milk) are fortified with vitamin D, but sunlight is the original source of vitamin D.
Unfortunately, inadequate vitamin D is really common, and older adults and people with limited sun exposure are especially at risk. Getting out to the garden is one way to get the benefits of vitamin D.
3. Gardening relieves stress and increases mindfulness.
Setting aside time to get out in nature, breathe in some fresh air, and just focus on weeding and planting may give you a much-needed break from the fast pace of life. You might notice fewer and quieter thoughts racing through your brain, and you might feel a mood boost from the green space, according to the American Institute of Stress.
Not convinced? Gardening has such good benefits for mental health that it’s now an official therapeutic approach called horticultural therapy. It uses trained therapists to help participants to treat mental illnesses (as well as physical rehabilitation).
4. Gardening supports healthy joints.
As you age, your flexibility and range of motion may become more limited—unless you keep those joints supple. Gardening involves digging, kneeling, squatting, weeding, and more, which helps keep those joints active and flexible. No dumbbells necessary!
5. Gardening might provide you with fresh produce.
If your garden contains fruits, veggies, and herbs, you get an added health benefit: fresh produce for cheap.
Food has the most nutrients when it’s picked at its peak ripeness, so your homegrown tomatoes may actually be more nutritious than the ones at the store, which are often plucked before they’re fully ripe, and then they sit for a bit in transit and in the store.
Bonus: If money is tight, growing your own fruits and vegetables may help you boost your intake without increasing your grocery budget. (Here are other money-saving tips for healthy eating.)
6. Gardening can improve your immunity.
It sounds crazy, but it’s true: Gardening actually exposes you to an abundance of bacteria. That might not sound like a good thing, but exposure to diverse bacteria actually helps train the immune system against future threats.
A study from Stanford University School of Medicine found that the immune system acquires a “memory” of microbial pathogens (bacteria, viruses, and fungi) that it is exposed to—and even pathogens that it has never been exposed to.
This explains why exposure to common pathogens (such as those found in the soil of your garden) can actually make you less susceptible to more dangerous infections.
7. Gardening can provide a sense of community.
Community gardening is a blooming trend (pun intended), and it is a collaborative space where people in the community help maintain and grow fruits and vegetables. The goals are to encourage healthy eating, revitalize and beautify an area, lower crime rates, and improve social connections.
In other words, community gardening benefits both the individual and the community, and the relationship is reciprocal. By helping to improve the community, many participants often feel a stronger tie to their neighborhood, not to mention with their fellow gardeners.
It’s often overlooked, but having a strong sense of community is linked to better mental health. It increases feelings of social support and belonging, which provide a buffer against mental illness. (Learn more about the health benefits of socializing here.)
Moral of the story: The benefits of gardening go beyond a pretty lawn, and you may just weed away your stress and bloom a healthier mind and body.