There are many practical reasons why people choose to grow their own vegetables. Many enjoy having their own, customized garden full of fresh, organic produce with no added chemicals or pesticides. For others it is a financially viable option – in times of economic turbulence, investing in growing your own food (especially in re-flowering plants) can save you a lot of money when compared to the price of organic produce in large supermarket chains. But there are many other, less obvious benefits to maintaining a vegetable garden, one of which being the positive effect it can have on mental health. When you drafted out your vegetable plot and went shopping for seeds and hoes at the DIY store you probably didn’t have mindfulness, relaxation and good mental health in mind but I bet you’ve noticed yourself feeling happier and healthier since beginning haven’t you? Here’s why:
For a start, gardening includes a lot of physical exertion. Whether you’re reaching to prune plants, hauling bucket loads of water, running a rotavator across your plot or bending down to dig up carrots you can bet your pulse is racing. That automatically means blood flow to the brain is increased and with that the body fires off a number of feel-good endorphins around the body. These can leave you feeling pumped up, positive and filled with a wonderful sense of well being. So powerful is this release that many experts suggest regular exercise to sufferers of depression – it is the ultimate, natural mood enhancer.
More people than ever are taking part in community garden schemes. Their mission is to make the country greener while also bringing communities together in a joint endeavour to grow and eat well. As humans, we thrive from interaction and belonging to a group such as this is great for mental health, personal happiness and self esteem.
It fends off disease
As well as being a good workout for your body, studies indicate that the sophisticated brain activity involved with planting and gardening is also a good workout for the brain. Some studies have gone as far as to suggest that it can help fend off neurological conditions such as dementia. And for those already suffering from such conditions, the stimulating sensory aspects of a vegetable garden such as the sounds, smells and touch have been proven to be effective therapy.
It’s good for the soul
Being outdoors is another form of therapy that seems to get overlooked in the modern world – presumably because it is just ‘too simple’. Nevertheless, the mental health benefits of being at one with nature have been recognized for years and the peaceful, natural environment of the garden is the perfect setting for relaxation and contemplation. What could be more calming than spending a few twilight hours with the sun on your back, inhaling the fresh summer air and watching your crops blossom? Gardening is considered such a relaxing and meditative act that it is promoted as therapy in many hospices and recovery centres. Studies show than people recovering from addiction can benefit hugely from vegetable gardening as it improves self esteem: the act of planting, growing and maintaining a crop until you have something useful to show for it is very rewarding and a good way to improve self worth through a personal sense of achievement.
Believe it or not, the simple act of touching fresh earth and soil can directly impact brain health – this is known as grounding. The soil contains energy-boosting electrons that can be absorbed by the body and spread throughout the tissues helping to aid with pain relief, improve sleep patterns and enhance general mood and wellbeing. So next time you’re in the garden, get your hands dirty and see how you feel afterwards.
The foods that we eat play a direct part in our mental and physical health so stock your vegetable gardens with feel-good foods that are good for brain health. Leafy green vegetables such as spinach along with turnips and beets are extremely high in folic acid. Deficiencies in this mineral are thought to contribute to conditions such as depression and fatigue. Onions and broccoli are also thought to contain selenium which can help improve symptoms of anxiety.
* About Helen
Prior to working in writing I was employed in the healthcare sector for many years and was lucky enough to have a varied career that took in many aspects of helping people, particularly in matters relating to diet, nutrition and fitness. When I became a mother I think my perspective on life changed and I decided I wanted to put my energies into looking after my own family – so took to writing articles on the topics I knew about as a way to share my knowledge.
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How Gardening is Helping People with Dementia, http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/jul/30/dementia-gardening-helping-people, accessed 08.05.15
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Why Your Brain Needs a Garden, http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/08/21/gardening-impacts-brain-health.aspx, accessed 08.05.15
Healthy Gut, Healthy Mind, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/real-healing/201301/healthy-gut-healthy-mind-5-foods-improve-mental-health, accessed 05.08.15
Avoiding Common Vegetarian and Vegan Deficiencies, http://www.kwikmed.org/avoiding-common-vegetarian-vegan-deficiencies/, accessed 05.08.15