Gardening Can Cultivate Better Mental Health – ScienceDaily

Many long-time gardeners will tell you that the garden is their happy place. New research suggests that many people can actually derive mental health benefits from working with plants – even if they’ve never been a gardener before.

In a study published in PLUS ONE, Researchers at the University of Florida found that gardening activities reduced stress, anxiety and depression in healthy women who attended twice-weekly gardening classes. None of the study participants had been gardeners before.

“Past studies have shown that gardening can help improve the mental health of people who have pre-existing medical conditions or challenges. Our study shows that healthy people can also experience a boost to their mental well-being through gardening,” said Charles Guy, the study’s principal investigator and professor emeritus in the UF/IFAS Department of Ecological Horticulture.

The study was co-authored by an interdisciplinary team of researchers with the Department of Ecological Horticulture, the UF College of Medicine, the UF Center for the Arts in Medicine, and the UF Wilmot Botanical Gardens, which also hosted all of the study’s treatment sessions.

Thirty-two women between the ages of 26 and 49 completed the study. All were in good health, which for this experiment meant screening for factors such as chronic health conditions, tobacco use, and drug abuse, and were prescribed medication for anxiety or depression. Half of the participants were assigned to gardening sessions, while the other half were assigned to art-making sessions. Both groups met twice a week for a total of eight times. The art group served as a point of comparison with the gardening group.

“Both gardening and artistic activities involve learning, planning, creativity and physical movement, and both are used therapeutically in medical settings. That makes them more comparable, scientifically speaking, than, say, gardening and bowling or gardening and reading,” Guy explained.

In the gardening sessions, participants learned how to compare and sow seeds, transplant different types of plants and harvest and taste edible plants. Those who took part in the art making sessions learned techniques such as paper crafting, printing, painting and collage.

Participants completed a series of assessments measuring anxiety, depression, stress, and mood. The researchers found that the gardening and art-making groups had similar improvements in mental health over time, with the gardeners reporting slightly less anxiety than the art-makers.

Given the relatively small number of participants and the length of the study, the researchers were still able to demonstrate evidence of what medical professionals would call the dosage effects of gardening—that is, how much gardening someone needs to do to see improvements in mental health.

“Larger studies may reveal more about how gardening relates to changes in mental health,” Guy explained. “We believe this research shows promise for mental well-being, plants in healthcare and public health. It would be great to see other researchers use our work as a basis for these kinds of studies.”

The idea of ​​using gardening to promote better health and well-being – called therapeutic gardening – has been around since the 19th century.

But why does being surrounded by plants make us feel good? The answer can be found in the important role of plants in human evolution and the rise of civilization, explain the authors of the study. As a species, we may be innately drawn to plants because we depend on them for food, shelter, and other means of our survival.

Whatever the deeper reasons, many of the study participants left the experiment with a newfound passion, the researchers noted.

“At the end of the experiment, many of the participants said not only how much they enjoyed the sessions, but also how they planned to continue gardening,” Guy said.

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Materials provided by University of Florida. Originally written by Samantha Murray. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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