We’ve long known that nature is good for us. Aside from the now-clear evidence of the way in which nature maintains the equilibrium of our planet, for us as individuals being in green spaces outdoors enhances physical wellbeing, and – it turns out – mental wellbeing.
The benefits of gardening, or simply being in the garden, include, according to a Kings Fund report, improved social skills, as well as reduced susceptibility to anxiety and depression. This positive impact on mental and other health has been extensively studied. One example comes from Exeter Medical school, where they took a sample of 1,000 urban dwellers and tracked their health over an 18-year period. The findings revealed that those with green space near them had fewer, or reduced, incidences of mental distress.
Let’s unpack this. For a start being in gardens or nature is likely to bring with it some form of physical movement. Even if we’re not talking about vigorous exercise, it’s likely that being outdoors will involve moving and walking around, and may well be bending or stretching as we get our hands into the soil and tend the greenery. A Harvard study found that 30 minutes of gardening among other household tasks is akin to 30 mins of yoga or badminton!
Then there is the fresh air. Although our air quality may leave something to be desired in the great outdoors of our cities, it is at least fresher than the air that circulates in our homes when we’re stuck indoors, and a lungful of fresh air can go a long way in giving us some pep.
Our gardens and open spaces are also, if nothing else, enlivening to the senses as our eyes feast on the colours, our noses on the scents, our minds on the shapes of trees and flowers and our ears on the… well often just the silence! All of which give us a welcome reprieve from the whirring of computers, traffic, air conditioning and our own brains.
Talking of which (brains), it seems that our brains and nervous systems are able to rest and recharge through nature (and we all need more of that). The Science Team at the Royal Horticultural Society has spent the last five years collating current scientific evidence on gardening and health, and undertaking new scientific research into how our sensory responses and emotions are impacted by gardens and plants. So it is only a matter of time before we understand more behind the science of why and how our nervous systems are positively impacted by nature.
What we have found out so far is that the soil itself is actually good for us. Numerous studies (here’s one) by neuroscientists over the past couple of decades have traced the impact of friendly bacteria in soil on our nervous system and found that the friendly bacteria in soil activates our brain cells to produce serotonin. In other words, it has a similar impact on the brain as anti-depressants.
So whilst we have all spent the past 2 years furiously washing our hands, it may now be time to get them into the dirt of the soil and boost those good chemicals in our brain.
To celebrate the National Gardening Week (27th April – 5th May), EVORA’s Health & Wellness team is having a Plant Power Month with various activities for Evorians to get their hands dirty!