Health Benefits of Gardening

Gardening is good for you. Many nontraditional approaches to gardening are improving the world around us. Hospitals and assisted care facilities use gardening in patient therapy programs. Schools are incorporating gardening programs into youth development classes. Communities are developing urban garden projects to aid the homeless. Wounded warriors are using gardening programs to heal their bodies and minds.

Those of us who live the life of a gardener know intrinsically that it makes us feel good and improves our well-being. I have some theories on why this is and have found sources that substantiate them medically. Gardening activities stimulate the release of brain chemicals that make us feel good.

This makes me feel good

I stumbled across an online article from Permaculture College Australia on “Why Gardening Makes You Happy and Cures Depression“. The article refers to research that getting our hands dirty literally brings us into contact with soil bacteria that stimulate the release of serotonin in our brains. According to WebMD, it is believed that serotonin deficiency plays a role in depression. While difficult to measure and quantify, increasing serotonin levels can make us feel better. I always wear gloves when I work with wood and wire, but when it comes to planting, the barehanded approach is the only way to go. Getting my hands dirty makes me feel good.

An article in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience on “How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs” (see link below) references studies that show that “serotonin may be associated with physical health as well as mood.” They suggest that low serotonin levels may “predispose healthy individuals to suboptimal physical as well as mental functioning.” In other words, you aren’t performing as well as you should mentally and physically if your serotonin levels are low.

How do they recommend increasing serotonin? Bright light. Numerous studies show that exposure to light makes us feel better and helps us avoid depression. The article draws a correlation to our society’s increasing depression problems when compared to generations past when we lived with agriculture as a bigger part of our lives. People who work outside in the sun tend to have fewer depression issues than people who are cooped up inside all day. Gardening is an ideal way to take advantage of the sun and its optical benefits. I definitely feel better when gardening in the sun.

Exercise also helps boost serotonin levels. Exercise can improve your mood. The Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience article introduces tryptophan as another chemical that acts as an antidepressant and “increases agreeableness, decreases quarrelsomeness and improves mood.” Exercise, particularly exercise to fatigue, is associated with an increase of tryptophan in the blood. Gardening can certainly be a physically demanding activity and after a full day working outside my muscles and bones may ache, but I sure feel good about it.

Hard work but the results are seen in the photo above

I’ve written many times about how good I feel when picking the ripe tomato, plump pumpkin, or juicy strawberry. Permaculture College Australia tells of research that they call the “Harvest High”. There is a release of dopamine into the brain when we harvest our garden. Dopamine can trigger mild euphoria. In addition to the physical process of gathering our crops, the dopamine release can be triggered by sight or smell. That helps explain why I can’t suppress a face-filling smile when I spot the perfect fruit ready for plucking.

How can you not enjoy this?

I’ve theorized that endorphins play a role in making me feel good when gardening. When you exert yourself your body produces endorphins. They make you feel really good, similar to morphine, and are commonly attributed to the euphoric feeling you get after a good workout or athletic performance; they produce the “runner’s high”. A WebMD article on “Exercise and Depression” specifically identifies gardening as a moderate exercise that can help depression. The blissful feeling after turning over the last shovel of soil when I stand erect and survey a prepared garden plot may be a quick rush of endorphins.

Then there are the emotional aspects of gardening that can’t be easily studied or researched. There are some things about my passion that don’t need to be explained medically or scientifically.

Digging in the soil, finding a few grubs, and feeding them to my chickens produces a wide range of brain chemicals at each step of the experience, but all I know is the chickens are as pleased as chickens can be and I like doing it.

Seeing the face of my grandson when he pulls a long, orange carrot from the soil and grins at his accomplishment is all about pleasure. His response might be explained by the dopamine in his body. But mine is more. It’s about family, and love, and memories, and the joy of youth.

This makes me happy

When Carrie tells me she loves my blog and shares my gardening ideas and activities with her parents it brings forth feelings of accomplishment, pride, and satisfaction. It feels good to know I’m making a difference, however small, in the happiness of someone else and it makes me want to do more.

The friends I have who are also gardeners are among my dearest. The love of gardening may have brought us together initially but we love each other for who we are. We are much more than gardeners, while gardening makes us better people.

Gardening makes me feel younger than I am. It brightens my day even when the sky is cloudy and a cold wind blows. Gardening helps take the physical pain of aging away by replacing it with a body ache that relishes to be repeated.

Science shows us there is a chemical reason why gardening makes us feel good physically and mentally. Experience shows us that gardening makes us feel good emotionally. With so many issues affecting our lives and so many activities vying for our precious time, it makes sense for gardening to find a place in our schedule. Gardening helps us put everything else in proper perspective.

I garden because I like to. It turns out that my body and brain substantiate the positive aspects every time I do it. When it comes to taking drugs, I’ll keep pumping serotonin, tryptophan, dopamine, and endorphines into my body. I’ll keep making a difference and keep making memories.

Gardening is good for me… what a great concept.


2 responses to this post.

  1. This article struck too many chords to count. It suffices to say, gardening is good for me as well. It sure beats a Wellbutrin any day of the week = )


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