Have you ever left a garden feeling rejuvenated? Has your mood been boosted by digging your hands in the soil? Have you felt a surge of happiness when picking a ripe tomato off the vine? The health we receive from gardens goes far beyond the nutritious vegetables that we eat. Some of us may already be familiar the healing effect that wild spaces provide, but we might be surprised at the wide array of beneficial outcomes that gardening has on our minds and bodies.
Simply stated, gardening makes us joyful. When we come in contact with certain soil bacteria, our brains release serotonin, also known as “the happy chemical”. Serotonin acts as an anti-depressant and it decreases cortisol (stress hormone) levels.
Our bodies also release dopamine when we harvest produce from gardens. This likely harkens back to the our hunter-gatherer days, when our reward systems in our brains became activated after successfully finding food. Regardless, it just may put a smile on your face to collect fresh food from a garden!
In addition to boosting our mood, the serotonin release we experience when gardening can increase our immune system response, which can help us fight disease. Exposure to soil is important for building our bodies’ natural immune response, and a lack of soil contact has been linked to later asthma and allergies. Studies show that ingesting small amounts of soil over time can improve our gut microbiome and boost immunity. So don’t fret about some soil on your organic produce – a little dirt never hurt anyone!
The serotonin-inducing bacteria found in soil also can give us greater mental clarity . Exposure to this bacteria has been shown to improve memory and increase cognitive function. Gardening in senior citizen homes has even proven to reduce dementia-linked aggression!
Beyond the magic of soil, gardening can help our brains focus. Even a task as simple as weeding can help improve attention and concentration, which are skills that easily transfer to day-to-day life.
Most people would agree that movement is key to disease prevention and maintaining a positive mindset. While exercising is cited as a top lifestyle choice to improve overall health, different types of movement have varying results. Why choose gardening? “Exercise” is, by definition, physical activity for the sake of physical activity. Natural movement, on the other hand, involves engaging in activities (such as gardening) that allow you to receive physical movement in order to achieve something beyond fitness. In other words, the exercise is a happy side effect of gardening.
Plus, it is better for our bodies to experience the wide-ranging and fluctuating movements required for gardening (squatting, bending, lunging for shoveling, lifting, etc) than a more static, singular approach to exercise. By working in the garden, you’re accomplishing the goals of providing food for yourself and giving back to the planet while also engaging in some great physical activity.
At The Uplands
Based off of this info, you may infer that our Director of Agricultural Operations is one happy and healthy guy. And you’d be correct! Sean spends much of his time tending to The Uplands’ vast garden, and he reaps the benefits of that consistent exposure. In describing his experience, Sean says, “Generally the work up in the garden feels very meditative to me, even when it’s hard physical work. Overall it’s very calming. There’s also a sense of pride and gratitude in seeing what I’ve helped to create grow and flourish.”