A green thumb brings big benefits

Wouldn’t it be sweet if a single activity could improve mental and physical health, boost quality of life, cost next to nothing, and be a downright pleasure to boot? The humble act of gardening, it seems, holds all of these benefits with a downside no greater than a little dirt under the fingernails. Consider these advantages.

Contact with nature

Science is catching up with what many of us have long known intuitively: humans are healthier when they spend time in the natural world. With roughly 81 percent of us living in towns and cities, regular access to pure wilderness can be hard to come by.

But nature in its many urban forms is all around us—non-human species living out their processes and relationships; the weather and seasons touching every yard and alley. Gardening gets us up close and personal with not only the plants but also the insects, birds, soil, and even minerals that go hand in hand with them.

Healthy mind

We don’t immediately think of gardening as an intervention for depression and anxiety, but studies show it can function in exactly that way. In fact, time spent among and tending plants is considered an official mental health treatment: horticultural therapy.

There’s a profound sense of accomplishment that comes from stewarding something edible or beautiful to fruition, and plants’ seasonal renewal provides reason for optimism. Gardening also tends to improve self-esteem, overall life satisfaction, and cognitive function. Who wouldn’t like a healthy dose of all three?

Healthy body

In the same way that needing to walk the dog gets us off the couch, plants under our care propel us out into the sun and into regular physical activity. It’s recommended that adults get a minimum of 2 1/2 hours of exercise weekly; gardening is one way to achieve this.

Having an enjoyable way to stay active means that, in addition to our garden crop, we can reap the preventive effect exercise has on chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Garden soil itself confers a surprising health perk, as exposure to soil microbes when we’re young is integral to a well-functioning immune system throughout life. And let’s not forget the all-important vitamin D we soak up when we expose our skin to a little sunshine out there!

Healthy food and finances

Not only is the act of growing our own fruits and vegetables good for us, but consuming them is too. Associated with everything from better vision to decreased risk of chronic illness, a fruit- and vegetable-rich diet is easy to adopt when the products are close at hand, at their freshest and most flavorful.

Both children and adults are more apt to go for the good stuff when they’ve had a hand in growing it. And as the price of produce continues to rise, gardening can be an important cost-saving measure, allowing us to feed ourselves well on a budget.