Green Peace

Can having a garden make you happier and healthier?

Working in a garden relaxes your mind and brings about a sense of achievement.

Can having a garden make you happier and healthier?
Photo by Tom Ezzatkhah/Unsplash

The garden, instead of a therapist’s office, might be where you want to pop in the next time you’re in need of stress relief.

Horticultural therapy, where gardening activities and plants are used to help boost one’s physical, mental and social health, was first documented in the 19th century by Dr Benjamin Rush, often credited as the father of American psychiatry.

A study from the Journal of Health Psychology in 2010 revealed that reading and garden helped lower stress levels but results from gardening were more significant as the mood subsequently recovered fully.

So why are more and more people turning to gardening to feel happier and be healthier?

“People enjoy horticulture because it brings them into close, intimate contact with nature, something that is otherwise often sorely lacking in modern life experience,” says Dr Elan Barenholz, associate professor psychology at the Florida Atlantic University.

“Cortisol levels go down in a calm, green environment,” says Gwenn Fried, manager of Horticulture Therapy at Rusk Rehabilitation, NYU Langone. The act of growing plants changes a person’s outlook, giving him or her a sense of hope, and contributes to increases in his or her quality of life. 

Looking at nature gives our brains a rest from intense cognitive function, according to Barbara Kreski, director of horticultural therapy services at the Chicago Botanic Garden. “You can look at a tree and you don’t have to figure out anything,” she explains.  

Gardening doesn’t just relieve stress; it’s great exercise too. Regularly performing tasks such as pushing a hand mower can improve cardiovascular fitness. Along with activities such as raking, sweeping and digging, they can strengthen your back, arms, shoulders, core and leg muscles. And with 330 calories burnt up every hour – more than if you were to walk at a moderate pace – gardening can help you lose weight and achieve a lower body mass index.    

Gardening 30 minutes for 5 days a week has shown to reduce risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, control high blood pressure, and boost recovery of cancer and stroke. Time under the sun also enables your body to produce Vitamin D, which is essential for bone formation. Important: don’t forget the sunscreen!

Before you head out, check out these lovely gardens:

When celeb hairstylist Sam McKnight is not working with the tresses of superstars and supermodels, he can be spotted chilling in his garden at home in London. Here he waxes lyrical about the beauty of roses, tulips, peonies, and other blooms. And his advice to other gardeners: Don’t be shy to Google or ask questions.     

Spanning 187 acres and housing 13 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms among other niceties, the Herefordshire home of actress and swimwear designer Elizabeth Hurley is where she lives with her son Damien and their dogs. But most of the action appears to happen in the garden, where she’s often spotted practising yoga and, well, simply looking sexy.     

For 6 months, Claire Ratinon learnt to grow salad and other produce organically with London’s Growing Communities, which supports small-scale sustainable farmers and communities. It’s led her to diverse projects, including reclaiming vegetable patches as well as conducting food growing workshops for kids.  

Keith and Clare’s Suburban Garden in Melbourne, Australia, is where the couple grow an amazing crop of plums, limes, strawberries, pomegranate, tomatoes, potatoes, kale, cauliflower, bok choy and many others. The garden, which has an area of 80sqm, is open for guided tours.       

Darryl Cheng parlayed his passion for plants into a successful social media empire. His houseplant care book, The New Plant Parent, which is available at leading online bookstores, features tips pertaining from lighting to watering. A business analyst at a tech company, he is based in Toronto, Canada.  

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