Earth Day: discover the health benefits of gardening

Samantha Wild
Clinical Lead for Women's Health and Bupa GP
21 April 2022
Next review due April 2025

The theme for Earth Day this year is ‘Invest in our planet’. It’s the perfect time of year to discover all the health benefits of outdoor gardening and connect with nature.

From cultivating green spaces to growing vegetables and fruit, gardening can work wonders for our mind and body. Here, I explore how gardening can improve your health, and what the research says.

person working in the garden

Does gardening count as physical exercise?

Whether it’s weeding or planting shrubs, gardening is a great way for people of all ages to keep fit. It works all the large muscle groups in your body. Depending on the type of gardening you do, it can:

  • raise your heart rate
  • improve hand coordination and strength
  • strengthen your muscles
  • improve your flexibility

It’s recommended that adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week. So, just 30 minutes of gardening, five times each week, can help you achieve this. It’s also thought that half an hour of gardening uses the same amount of energy as playing badminton or practising yoga.

If you’re new to gardening, or don’t exercise often, start slowly to build up your fitness. Listen to your body, and garden at a pace that you feel comfortable with. This will reduce your risk of injury.

Is gardening good for your mental health and wellbeing?

Gardening isn’t just good for us physically. The benefits of nature and green spaces on our mental health and wellbeing are well known. There’s growing evidence to show it:

  • increases feelings of happiness and wellbeing
  • reduces anxiety and depression 
  • lowers stress levels
  • improves memory

In fact, GPs are increasingly using environmental therapies, called ‘green prescribing’, to support people with different health conditions, including dementia and addiction. This may involve connecting people to green spaces and activities like gardening, to promote their wellbeing.

Engaging with the natural world around you is also a great way to practice mindfulness. You can get mindful by focusing on the physical gardening task in front of you.

Can gardening help with eco-anxiety?

Worrying about climate change can affect our wellbeing. This is sometimes called eco-anxiety. But, taking positive action to support the environment can help you to manage these feelings.

Here, are some gardening activities you can do to reduce your carbon footprint.

  • Grow and eat more plant-based foods, such as vegetables and fruit.
  • Grow plants that boost biodiversity and wildlife.
  • Reduce food waste by composting.
  • Plant trees to absorb carbon dioxide.

You’ll feel better knowing that your actions are helping to support nature and the health of our planet. They’re also a positive step forward in supporting more sustainable ways of living.

Will gardening protect you against disease?

The benefits of gardening don’t just end here. Gardening on a regular basis can help to lower your risk of health conditions such as:

Getting a bit of sunshine outdoors will also help your body get the vitamin D it needs from the sun. Vitamin D is important for your immune system and for healthy bones, muscles and teeth. But, to stay safe in the sun, be sure to use a good quality sunscreen and wear protective clothing.

How do you garden if you don’t have a garden?

Don’t be put off gardening if you lack gardening skills or don’t have a garden space. There are lots of healthy ways you can bring gardening into your home.

  • Grow fresh tomatoes or herbs in pots on windowsills, patios or in window boxes. They’re easy to grow and are a tasty addition to meals.
  • Take cuttings or seeds from houseplants you already have and regrow them as new plants. It’s free, and a great way to recycle containers.
  • Shop around for indoor hanging house plants, and create your own green hanging basket display.
  • Repot your houseplants to help keep them healthy. All you need is some fresh compost and a slightly bigger pot to your previous one.

If you want to garden outside why not join a local gardening group? Or maybe have a go at setting up your own community vegetable and fruit garden?

Community projects like these are a great way to connect with others and immerse yourself in the beauty of nature.

At Bupa, we're supporting the health of our planet. We've committed to a wide range of ambitious sustainability measures - partly because it's the right thing to do, but also because we know that the environment is closely linked to our physical and mental health.

Samantha Wild
Dr Samantha Wild
Clinical Lead for Women's Health and Bupa GP

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