Health Benefits of Gardening: Guest Blog from Dr. Sabra Royer, ND

What comes to your mind when you think of being in nature? Maybe it’s a specific place or activity that you enjoy. For people who are drawn to the outdoors, some of the health benefits of spending time
outside are intuitive. Research has shown that spending time in nature can be beneficial for people with a variety of conditions from diabetes and hypertension to stress, anxiety, and depression. In short, being
in nature can improve both mental and physical health.

Gardening is an easy way to spend time outdoors, and besides producing food or natural beauty, it may have some specific health benefits. Here are just a few:

1. Improved mood and decreased stress: The positive effects of spending time in nature have been noted in multiple research studies. In one experiment, just 30 minutes of gardening improved mood and decreased cortisol, a hormone secreted in response to stress. Stress
reduction may sound basic, but it’s a useful tool for modulating chronic diseases, such as heart disease, and is important for overall health as well.

2. Exercise: There’s no doubt that many people do not get enough physical activity, which can contribute to a number of health problems. Staying active is a vital part of maintaining wellness.
Depending on the types of movements you make during gardening, it can increase heart rate. Regardless, gardening is a way to move our bodies and increase blood flow.

3. Brain health: Research suggests gardening may help lower the risk of developing dementia. Gardening also generally involves moving our bodies in new and unfamiliar ways which can help improve coordination and stimulate our nervous system in subtle, yet positive ways.

4. Vitamin D: Gardening is a great way to soak up some sun. Sunlight activates a complex process that allows our skin to make vitamin D. Vitamin D, which in many ways behaves more like a hormone than a vitamin, is involved in hundreds of biological processes. The appropriate amount of sun exposure depends on many things including time of year, time of day, geographic location, and your skin type.

5. Immune function: Many people may have heard of the hygiene hypothesis, the idea that lack of exposure to microorganisms early in life can lead to problems with the immune system and increase the risk for developing allergies and asthma. Exposure to soil through gardening may be one way to promote specific subtypes of white blood cells called regulatory T cells. There are several types of T cells, many of which help our immune system fight infection. Regulatory T cells suppress undesirable immune responses. They help keep the immune system in check by maintaining self-tolerance (preventing our body from attacking its own cells), and thus preventing autoimmune disease. T regulatory cells also balance our immune function and play a role in suppressing allergic responses and asthma.

Simple things like stress management, exercise, nutrition, and being in nature have profound effects on our long-term health. Gardening may provide an enjoyable opportunity to spend time outside, strengthen your connection to your environment, and grow your health.

Posted by Dr. Sabra Royer, Naturopathic Physician

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