STK - Arbor Day

Happy Memorial Day weekend! Even though the forecast is a little chilly this year, many of us will still be out in our yards getting gardens in.

It is probably no surprise that gardening has a few health benefits. For example, you burn calories, get some vitamin D from the sunshine (again, if the sun shows itself), and if you plant fruits and vegetables, you get to enjoy fresh produce over the summer. In my opinion, fresh tomatoes from the garden are one of the best things about summer.

You may not realize that gardening also has mental health benefits. In fact, community gardens have been shown to improve mental health for whole neighborhoods. Depression and anxiety decrease and a sense of a good quality of life and satisfaction in life increase.

It’s been suggested that gardening can be a good mental health intervention for older adults in senior centers as well. Again, the reason for this seems to primarily be the exercise, but also community gardening can increase a person’s sense of purpose and reduce isolation.

For many, gardening may seem like more of a chore than true enjoyable exercise, but the benefits are irrefutable. You can burn between 200 and 400 calories an hour simply from pulling weeds. That’s not much less than going out for a jog. Gardening also builds muscle tone and cardiac health.

In an article from 2017, a scientist named Mashashi Shoga and her colleagues looked at 22 different studies from around the world focusing on the health effects of gardening under a variety of health circumstances and ages. Nearly every study showed a gain in health from gardening, and no studies showed that it was negative. This level of consensus across so many health outcomes is amazing. Some other positive health outcomes they found included reduced stress, tension, BMI, heart rate and even anger.

Children can especially benefit by gardening. They are exposed to nature, learn responsibilities and gardening has even been shown to potentially reduce some behavioral problems. Some researchers have suggested that children can experience “nature deficit disorder,” where a lack of regular exposure to the outdoors increases their risk of anxiety or depression. Of course, there are a lot of things that can contribute to behavioral or mental health issues in children, so exposure to nature should not be considered a “cure all.”

So what do you do if you want to garden, but don’t have the space? Some neighborhoods in Utah host community gardens. A quick Google search showed several in Utah and Salt Lake counties. However, there are other communities that informally host them, or would be open to doing so. Some people will loan out space in their yards to neighbors. Balcony gardening in pots won’t provide as much exercise, but you can still enjoy the benefits of produce and flowers you grow.

If you have the inclination to garden, do so with confidence that you are likely getting a lot more benefit than just the food and aesthetic beauty, though those are great reasons in themselves.

If you have not gardened much in the past but would like to start, there are many online resources that can help get you started. Take some time to review them and pick a strategy that will work well for you and your family. Remember that it is best to start small and grown your garden each year as you learn more.

Happy planting!

Dr. Chantel Sloan is a professor of public and community health at Brigham Young University.

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