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Mental health benefits of gardening

Source: Emily Hansen, University of Minnesota Extension - Wright, McLeod and Meeker Counties

We all have a connection to the outdoors. Whether that connection is through the food you eat, the foundation your house sits on, or your walk to and from your car every day, nature is a prevalent part of your life. Our environment is precious. It provides us with the water we drink and the soil we grow food from, but what if it provided a psychological benefit to us? 

The world we live in today provides us with a life of ease. We can go to the grocery and buy food instead of hunting and gathering. We can turn on the sink and instantly have clean drinking water. Even though we live a life of ease in the United States, life expectancy rates are at an all-time low. The combination of stress, little exercise, and eating poorly contributes to unhappiness. One of the reasons why there is a struggle is that we are less connected to nature. A good portion of our days are spent watching television, working on the computer, and scrolling through social media on our phones. Nature has the power to heal, and finding a way to reconnect will help us to deal with the modern anxieties of life. 

As humans, we have an innate urge to connect with other forms of life. Gardeners have a passion for connecting with plants and pet owners have a love for their animals. Science tells us that humans have co-evolved with plants throughout time. Plants were a part of survival through food and shelter, but they also were spiritually and mentally beneficial. When we tap into this urge to connect with nature, it can help soothe modern anxieties.

Gardening has been shown to have a positive impact on mood and brain chemistry. It allows us to get out into the fresh air and breathe. Gardening is a mindfulness practice where you can just exist in the moment. Use your senses the next time you are outdoors. See the colors around you, smell the fresh air, listen to the birds, touch the plants, and taste what the garden has to offer.

Surprisingly, the soil can help to improve mood. One kind of bacteria found in the soil has been found to stimulate areas of the brain and produce serotonin which helps us to feel good. The next time you are in the garden, get dirty. Dig your feet and hands beneath the soil and become a part of the Earth. It can improve your mood.

Spending time gardening is also a great way to exercise. It can get your heart rate up, your body moving, and you can even stretch if you bend over and pull weeds. Being out in the sun will also boost your vitamin D intake. 

When you grow your own vegetables, you are connected to your food. Research shows that you are likely to be more mindful of your food choices which contributes to a healthy diet. Gardening does not have to be in a standard outdoor plot. If you do not have space, try growing tomatoes in a pot on your porch or starting herbs in your kitchen. Including gardening in your routine provides a form of daily satisfaction. Growing your own food or taking a walk to enjoy nature can improve your mental health. 

Gardens can connect us to nature no matter where we live - and have many health

benefits. As Extension Master Gardener Volunteers, we work towards increasing access to natural spaces for the public, as well as helping to connect people directly to plants through teaching, demonstration, and easing the challenges and mysteries of working with plants. If you are interested in providing this demonstration to your organization, please contact Emily Hansen.

If you have any questions about this or any horticulture-related topic, please contact your local Extension educator. For residents in Wright, McLeod, and Meeker counties, contact Emily Hansen at 612-394-6302 or hans6005@umn.edu 

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