Gardening has often been dismissed as the pastime of senior citizens looking to fill their post-retirement days, but what if the mental health benefits outweigh any preconceived notions one may have had about this eco-friendly act.
Gardening allows people suffering from mental illness to have a sense of purpose. It garners responsibility in the form of looking after the garden to ensure growth. Long amounts of time spent outdoors also releases hormones that help fight depression and anxiety. Gardening is somewhat of a meditative activity, the more engrossed you become in the act, the more present you become. During the gardening process rumination becomes obsolete and stress levels reduced.
In fact, being in contact with any form of green space for long periods of time seems to improve mental health. An experiment was conducted where two groups were placed in separate rooms, one was put in a windowless room and then told to walk through an urban environment; the other group was placed in a room with a large window and then told to walk through a garden. The mental health benefits were visible immediately as the latter group showed much higher signs of relaxation after finishing the activity.
This specific phenomenon is called “Horticulture Therapy,” which is classified as any type of physical activity within a nature setting. It is even used for prisoners, to help prepare them for assimilation back into society. Horticultural therapy has been shown to lower blood pressure, increase productivity and provide an overall improved mood, both short and long-term. It is even capable of reducing some of the symptoms of aggression in Dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.
A man named Edward O. Wilson came up with a related theory of Biophilia, which states that people are most content when they are focusing on lifelike processes. In other words, we have an innate need to take care of things which have a similar life cycle to ours. This just shows that it may be time to pick up a shovel and start digging, because the secret to having a healthy brain may be within a green thumb.