The Unexpected Heath Benefits of Gardening

Sojourn has been a leader in intergenerational horticultural therapy for the past 32 years. We pioneered such a program in 1984 with the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum which resulted in an innovative text book describing the program and benefits. Sojourn continues the horticultural therapy program in our current location with the cooperation of the Mound City Garden Project.

Our experience totally supports the findings in the article below. Enjoy the reading and let us know if you are interested in volunteering to help in our program.

It’s that time of year when those of us with a green thumb are waiting on bated breath for life to shoot up from our spring plantings.  As the days’ pass, we water and care for what will soon be a bountiful healthy variety of hard earned goodness. For most, the patience is filled with excitement and longing to once again have hearty fresh salads, vegetables, and fruits that add zing to our summer meals. Although all of this is wonderful, most of us don’t realize the health benefits we are gaining from not only what we eat from our gardens, but from all the work we do to grow our wonderful summer feast.

Sojourn Garden Patty & JudyStress – relief and self-esteem:
A Dutch study asked two groups to complete a stressful task. Afterwards, one group gardened for 30 minutes, while the other group read indoors. Not only did the gardening group report better moods than the reading group, they also had measurably lower cortisol levels. Cortisol, “the stress hormone”, may influence more than just mood: chronically elevated cortisol levels have been linked to everything from immune function to obesity to memory and learning problems and heart disease. It may be more than brain hormones causing higher self-esteem scores for gardeners: there’s no more tangible measure of one’s power to cause positive change in the world than to nurture a plant from seed to fruit-bearing.

Heart health and stroke risk:
Gardening may be just one way to achieve your target 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise each week — but gardening provides a rewarding motivation that makes it happen, unlike a treadmill, which invites associations with hamsters in wheels. A large Stockholm study showed that regular gardening cuts stroke and heart attack risk by up to 30% for those over 60. Raised beds can save the joints and extend possible gardening years for seniors, or for anyone wishing to garden more comfortably. Make sure to expose your limbs (without sunscreen) for just 10 minutes during midday gardening: this will give you enough vitamin D to reduce risks of heart disease, osteoporosis, and various cancers. Those with the lowest Vitamin D levels may be doubling their risk of dying of heart disease and other causes: and in most cases, too much time spent indoors is to blame.

Hand strength and dexterity:Sojourn Garden - Wendi
As we age, diminishing dexterity and strength in the hands can gradually narrow the range of activities that are possible or pleasurable. Gardening keeps those hand muscles vigorous and agile without oft-forgotten exercises such as a physiotherapist might prescribe. Related research has inspired rehabilitative programs for stroke patients involving gardening tasks as a satisfying and productive way of rebuilding strength and ability.

Brain health and Alzheimer’s risk:
Why does gardening make such a difference? Alzheimer’s is a mysterious disease, and the factors influencing its incidence and progression remain poorly understood. However, gardening involves so many of our critical functions, including strength, endurance, dexterity, learning, problem solving, and sensory awareness, that its benefits are likely to represent a synthesis of various aspects.

One long-term study followed nearly 3000 older adults for 16 years, tracking incidence of all kinds of dementia and assessing a variety of lifestyle factors. Researchers found daily gardening to represent the single biggest risk reduction for dementia, reducing incidence by 36%.

Immune regulation:
Not only does the Vitamin D you’re soaking in from the summer sun help you fight off colds and flus, but it turns out even the dirt under your fingernails may be working in your favor! The “friendly” soil bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae — common in garden dirt and absorbed by inhalation or ingestion on vegetables has been found to alleviate symptoms of psoriasis, allergies and asthma: all of which may stem from an out-of-whack immune system. This particular organism has also been shown to alleviate depression.

Sojourn Garden - Tami & CodyDepression and mental health:
Many people mention what a “lift” they get from a morning’s sweat amongst the carrots and lettuce. To add professional legitimacy to this claim, the growing field of “horticultural therapy” is giving proven results for patients with depression and other mental illnesses. The benefits appear to spring from a combination of physical activity, awareness of natural surroundings, cognitive stimulation and the satisfaction of the work. To build the therapeutic properties of your own garden, aim for a combination of food-producing, scented, and flowering plants to nourish all the senses. Add a comfortable seat so you can continue to bask in the garden while you rest from your labors.

As you can see, gardening is a wonderful health benefit that relieves stress, keeps our hearts and brains healthy, regulates our immune systems, and improves our overall mental health. It can be enjoyed by any age group with any level of strength and agility. Not only does gardening help us eat healthy it makes us be healthy!