As the weather heats up, many of us will take to the open outdoor spaces – even if it’s our own back yard!
It’s estimated that in the UK, there are around 27 million individuals that actively maintain a garden or outdoor space. It’s likely that this number has increased further through 2020 as working from home becomes ‘the new normal’ and we spend more time in our domestic space.
Whether it’s to make the greenery at home look more inviting, or to grow fruit and vegetables in allotments, gardening remains as popular a pastime as ever. But did you know, spending time outside in the garden could have potential benefits to physical and mental health?
A key part of this is understanding that the time we spend out in nature exposes us to soil and plants that host their own collection of microbes. Our interaction with these microbes influences our human microbiome – the trillions of microorganisms that inhabit the body. Plus, if the objective is to grow and eat fruit and vegetables, the nutritional benefits to the diet can be considered as one of the advantages too!
How is gardening connected to physical health?
Good news for those with green fingers - there is strong evidence that gardening can support or improve our wellbeing. Spending time gardening is shown to improve physical health, and because it’s accessible to people of all ages, it’s been suggested that gardening could be helpful for challenging a number of significant public health issues.
But, why is that? Exercising in green space is good for strength, balance and coordination, and has been shown to have a positive impact on body mass index (BMI) too. With manual work involved, those who maintain outdoor spaces such as gardens or allotments are generally more physically active and undertake more exercise daily.
Studies have found that gardening could be recommended to people seeking healthier lifestyle changes, because as little as two sessions a week can help to maintain muscle mass, improve aerobic endurance and hand dexterity in elderly people.
In addition to the direct benefits of gardening in terms of physical exercise, there are the advantages to the gut microbiome and gut health. Physical activity is associated with a more beneficial gut microbiome composition. For example, in older men, those with a higher daily step count are shown to have a more favourable composition of bacteria in their gut microbiome, as well as greater diversity.
How is gardening connected to mental health?
In community garden and allotment settings, gardeners have reported better perceived general and mental health, as well as social wellbeing. There are certain psychological benefits to gain from exposure to nature - and social interaction with other gardeners - by reducing stress and increasing social cohesion. In essence, gardening could be great for improving mental health!
Did you know there are multiple psychological benefits to tending to outdoor spaces? They include a greater feeling of relaxation and decreased stress and anxiety, which are advantages entwined and connected with physiological benefits. For example, in older adults the exposure to green space through planting activities is shown to promote lower blood pressure, resulting in feelings of relaxation and reduced anxiety.
How is gardening good for the microbiome?
Our gut microbiome doesn’t stay the same – it’s a constantly shifting composition that changes through our lives. We see this during infancy – babies born vaginally are shown to have a different microbial composition in the gut than those born through caesarean section. Our interactions and experiences can shape the gut microbiome!
Which leads us neatly into gardening - contact with nature every day is an important part of the gut microbiome’s natural development. Increasing contact with nature leads to increased health associated microflora, improving the gut microbiome of people in urban areas that would otherwise have limited exposure to it.
It is understood that vegetation, plants and greenery in outdoor urban areas improves the gut microbiome composition of people living there. In addition, exposure to environmental biodiversity through soil has been demonstrated to influence immune health. In tests, exposure to soil skews the gut microbiome in favour of immune tolerance and has been observed to prevent the development of allergies.
Take time to enjoy green spaces – there are known benefits to health and wellbeing!
Gardening isn’t just a way to beautify outdoor areas, it can have a fantastic and diverse range of health benefits too!
- Gardening and exercise are good for the microbiome – Gardening is good, consistent exercise and affects the gut microbiome through the increased physical activity levels, and the skin microbiome through contact with soil. In turn, this could have a positive influence on immunity .
- Outside exercise could be particularly beneficial for mental health and wellbeing – Spending time in green space has psychological benefits to consider. The effect on the gut microbiome could be beneficial for the gut-brain axis, as well as stress relief from time outside.
- Eating organic home-grown vegetables and fruits – Growing your own fruit and vegetables makes it easy to include them in your diet. Plus, growing edible plants can lead to more daily exposure to soil, and in our diets. Soil diversity influences the human gut microbiome and there are similarities seen in the function of the soil rhizosphere (the soil’s own ‘microbiome’), and the human gut microbiome.
Time spent tending to plants and sprucing up outdoor areas can have valuable benefits to health and wellbeing. So, as summer rolls on, it’s a great excuse to get out in the garden!
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