When I think back to moments in my past that changed the course of my life, one memory stands out in particular. As a college student, I ended up with a fellowship in an organization that linked community gardens to food banks, to make sure excess food was gleaned and given to those in need. The gardeners who tended the community garden plots had sun-kissed skin and were brimming with happiness. The elders of the group were very much young at heart, and appeared to possess a strong level of vitality. I quickly realized that gardening was a path to health and happiness.
Now, studies actually prove that gardening is beneficial for health. The results of a meta-analysis of research examining the effects of gardening show a wide range of health outcomes, such as reductions in depression, anxiety and body mass index, as well as increases in life satisfaction and quality of life.
It’s no surprise that the world continues to see a rise in cases of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and depression, with approximately 415 and 350 million people worldwide suffering from diabetes and depression, respectively. These “lifestyle diseases” increase as more of us live in urban environments devoid of nature. Recent studies suggest that daily contact with nature has a long-lasting and deep impact on health, including reductions in the aforementioned diseases as well as reduced anxiety and increased longevity. The list of benefits from gardening is quite long, with measured increases in sense of community, physical activity levels and cognitive function.
Another similar idea that has now been named is “earthing,” or grounding: walking barefoot outside as a way to reconnect to the earth’s surface electrons. Emerging scientific research supports the concept that the Earth’s electrons induce multiple physiological changes of clinical significance, including reducing pain, improving sleep, and helping the shift from sympathetic to parasympathetic tone in the autonomic nervous system.
Japanese medical doctor and researcher Qing Li writes about another similar concept called “shinrin-yoku” or Forest Bathing. It was developed in the 1980s and is now a cornerstone of preventative healing in Japanese culture. Simply spending time in the forest, walking slowly, breathing in the fresh air, has profound health benefits which have now been documented, including increased immune system functioning, reduced blood pressure, and improved sleep, to name a few.
The interesting thing about all of these ideas is that in times past, it was a given for most people to spend time with their feet or hands in the soil, breathing in the fresh air of nature. We have gotten quite far away from that today, and with that transition, our health has declined.
So, go for a walk in the woods. Walk barefoot on your lawn. Or plant a garden. Even a small container garden means you’ll be getting outside regularly to give it water and harvest some fresh herbs or veggies. If you feel like you don’t have time, consider ways you can shift priorities for your health. Perhaps you spend ten minutes less watching TV or playing on your phone. If you are busy with kids, let them help. I know my daughter is the most calm and happy after she’s spent time outside with her hands in the dirt.
If you need more space and want to delve into gardening full-on, sign up for a community garden plot through the Rutland Recreation Department. For as little as $10, you can rent a plot of land at one of Rutland’s three community gardens, where you will garden alongside others who may soon become friends and mentors.
For more-formal gardening mentorship, check out the series of workshops being offered once a month through the Rec Department and The Shrewsbury Agricultural Education and Arts Foundation (SAGE) at the Southeast Community Garden on Allen Street. These workshops are taught by my husband, Scott, an amazing educator and green thumb who has been honing his skills for the last decade as a commercial vegetable farmer. We got our start in a community garden plot, and immediately felt the effects on our health: we became more fit, we ate more fresh food, and we gained a sense of community with the other gardeners.
As someone once said, “Gardening is cheaper than therapy, and you get tomatoes.” Try it today!
Lindsay Courcelle is a myofascial release therapist, part-time vegetable farmer, and natural-health advocate. Email her at alchemyMFR@gmail.com.