Here at Thrive, we have experience of how beneficial gardening can be for people with all kinds of difficulties. However, the good news is that gardening has been shown to be good for everyone else too.
Typically, gardening comprises a range of tasks each of which is made up of a variety of movements. This variety results in a good general work out for the whole body, with less strain being put on particular muscle groups than, for example, in the gym. This is helpful in preventing or improving illnesses like coronary heart disease which benefit from both the arms and legs being exercised. One advantage of gardening as exercise is that it improves manual dexterity and strength, when compared with swimming or jogging, for example.
Gardening can be carried out at a steady comfortable pace which means there will be less chance of injury compared to many sports activities, where there is a greater chance of injury due to sudden movement.
An hour of steady gardening equates to walking five miles or taking 10,000 steps. Moderate intensity exercise such as gardening can reduce the risk for heart disease, stroke, depression, osteoporosis, hypertension, obesity, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer and premature death, if carried out for at least 2.5 hours per week.
Stress can be thought of as only affecting mood, but also has a range of physical effects including gastrointestinal illnesses, skin diseases, increased chance of heart attacks, hypertension and stroke, and compromised immune system function leading to greater incidence of infections, and autoimmune disorders. As stated above, using gardening as a moderate intensity exercise can reduce the impact of stress. One study found that gardening improved mood and reduced cortisol levels, promoting ‘…relief from acute stress’. Another study, in Holland, found that gardening reduced cortisol levels more than reading a book, when carried out after completing a stressful activity.
Other research has shown that older people are more likely to continue with gardening as a form of exercise compared with going to the gym or swimming as it is interesting over a longer time period. There is a fascination in the processes of nature. Because gardening takes place outside, gardeners are also exposed to sunlight and the vitamin D that this produces. Some recent research also found that exposure to the soil bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae can alleviate the symptoms of asthma, psoriasis and other allergies, and also depression.
Gardening enables you to grow healthy fruit and vegetables and use these in the kitchen, improving the quality of your diet and therefore your health.
A less expected benefit of gardening was discovered by an Austrian study. Researchers found that moderate exercise such as 30-45 minutes of gardening each week (1000 calories) reduced cases of impotence by 38%.
Thrive is the leading charity in the UK that uses gardening to bring about positive changes in the lives of people who are living with disabilities or ill health, or are isolated, disadvantaged or vulnerable. This is known as Social and Therapeutic Horticulture. Our experience has been that gardening can help everyone to become heathier. We work with people with a range of physical and mental challenges and find that gardening offers a unique range of opportunities to improve people’s lives in five key areas:
Improved physical health, strength and mobility.
Improved mental health, mood and confidence.
Closer connections to other people.
‘Passive restoration’ from being in nature – the ‘Biophilia effect’.
The opportunity to learn new things and take qualifications.
Ian came to Thrive following a stroke that left him paralysed and unable to work or look after himself. His association with Thrive helped his recovery, and Ian has delivered talks and was involved in the creation of our Carry on Gardening website. Ian is enthusiastic about the part gardening has played in his recovery:
"Four years after my stroke I was nominated for and won a ‘Life after stroke’ award, which is a scheme run by the Stroke Association. This was for the way I rebuilt my life within the community. I keep the award, which is a sculpture of a butterfly made by a previous award winner, next to my computer where I can see it to remind me how far I’ve come.
“I am now a firm believer that therapy through gardening is a powerful tool. It helped me to accept the fact that I had suffered a stroke and come to terms with it. It helped me to learn to live again.”
Many thanks to Ian and all at Thrive for sharing their story and passion!
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Blog moderated by Ann Gates, CEO of Exercise Works and a keen gardener since the age of 6!!