Growing Happiness – the Health Benefits of Gardening

  • happy gardeners

We all know that getting outside for a dose of fresh air and exercise is good for our health.  Gardeners in particular have long proclaimed the benefits all that weeding, pruning, planting and preening has on both their mental and physical health.

And there’s a growing body of research to support this, with increasing evidence proving the many virtues of exposure to plants and green space.  In fact, gardening is now one of the main examples of ‘social prescribing’ interventions favoured by GPs to improve patient well-being and help reduce the pressure on the NHS.

So whether you have a small window box, or a large landscape to look after, you too can reap the many benefits gardening has to offer.

  • Research into gardening

Supported by science

A new study published earlier this year found significant short and long-term links between gardening and overall well-being.

The research found evidence to suggest that gardening just 2-3 times per week can significantly increase the perceived benefits of gardening on both our physical and mental health.

The benefits were especially prevalent in those already experiencing existing health issues.  Conducted by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) in collaboration with the University of Sheffield and the University of Virginia, the report is one of the first major studies of its kind and will pave the way for further studies into the area.

  • Lady gardening outside

Green shoots in ground-breaking research

For the past five years, the RHS Science Team has collated current scientific evidence on gardening and health, as well as starting new scientific research.

And it’s this research that will form a key area of focus at RHS Hilltop – the Home of Gardening Science at RHS Garden Wisley. Opened in June this year, pioneering RHS Hilltop is the UK’s first dedicated horticultural scientific centre of excellence, featuring purpose-built laboratories that support research, a herbarium, learning studies and is surrounded by stunning wellbeing gardens.

Professor Alistair Griffiths, RHS Director of Science and Collections says:

“Our studies will examine how garden design and plants influence sensory experiences, affective responses and wellbeing”

  • Male gardener smiling

5 health benefits of gardening

  1. Natural mood-booster: studies have found that just 30 minutes of light gardening or exercise outdoors can lower our levels of cortisol. This stress hormone can lead to increased weight gain, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and depression.
  2. Soak up some rays: any exposure to sunlight helps adults achieve adequate levels of vitamin D, which is proven to benefit bone health and to support the immune system.  Remember to take care in very hot conditions and use a high SPF sunscreen to protect your skin.
  3. Decrease dementia risk: physical activity, especially gardening has been found to reduce the incidence of dementia, according to a 16-year study with 3,000 people over the age of 60.
  4. Physical benefits: weeding, pruning, planting and general garden maintenance is great for building stamina, strength and flexibility, whatever your age or ability.
  5. Counters loneliness: a global public health issue across the world, loneliness and isolation is growing, despite living in a more ‘connected’ world than ever. Community gardens, neighbourhood gardening schemes and interest groups are helping people to engage with others and build connections.
  • Young gardener

Therapeutic horticulture in action

Thrive agrees. The UK’s leading therapeutic horticulture charity uses gardening to help create positive changes for people living with disabilities and ill health, as well as those who are vulnerable, disadvantaged or isolated.

Their work helps to improve both physical and psychological health, providing service users with new skills, friendships and a positive impact on their mental health.

  • Planting a garden container

A green prescription

Two years ago, the NHS Long Term Plan for England committed to investing more to support mental health. This much needed plan included a commitment to employing a team of 1,000 social prescribing professionals – the largest by any health service worldwide.

Practically, this means that GPs and other healthcare referrers will be able to create a pathway for millions of people to help them connect to activities in their local communities – including gardening.

This commitment is just another indicator of how the healing effects of nature are being vindicated.  Whilst social prescribing cannot replace medical treatment, it is hoped this new intervention will offer additional support to those that need it.

  • A service user at Horatio's Garden

    Service user at Horatio's Garden

Charities leading the way

Horatio’s Garden is a national charity creating and nurturing beautiful gardens in NHS spinal injury centres to support everyone affected by spinal injury. Their work helps to grow thriving communities to support patients, their families and friends facing long stays in NHS hospitals.

The National Garden Scheme is another national charity that supports nursing and health charities. It gives access to nearly 4,000 private gardens across the UK each year, raising money for several charities from Macmillan Cancer Support to Hospice UK.

  • Garden containers

Ready to start gardening?

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Let our friendly and experienced team help you to choose the perfect planters, urns or troughs for your outside space.

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