Research says Gardening Can Promote Better Mental Health

New research suggests that many people can reap mental health benefits from working with plants, even if they’ve never gardened before. In a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, University of Florida scientists found that gardening activities reduced stress, anxiety and depression in healthy women who attended gardening classes twice a week.

None of the study participants had done gardening before. “Past studies have shown that gardening can help improve the mental health of people with pre-existing medical conditions or challenges.

Our study shows that healthy people can also gain psychological well-being through gardening,” said Charles Guy, principal investigator on the study and professor emeritus in the UF/IFAS Department of Environmental Horticulture.

The study was co-authored by an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the Department of Environmental Horticulture, UF College of Medicine, UF Center for Arts in Medicine and UF Wilmot Botanical Gardens, which also conducted all study treatment sessions. 32 women between the ages of 26 and 49 completed the study.

All were in good health, which for the experiment meant screening for factors such as chronic health conditions, tobacco use and substance abuse, and prescribed medications for anxiety or depression. Half of the participants were assigned to gardening sessions, while the other half were assigned to art-making sessions. Both groups met twice a week for a total of eight times.

The art group served as a comparison with the gardening group. “Both gardening and art activities involve learning, planning, creativity, and physical movement, and they are both used therapeutically in clinical settings. This makes them more comparable, scientifically speaking, than, for example, gardening and bowling or gardening and reading,” Guy explained.

During the gardening sessions, participants learned how to compare and plant seeds, transplant different types of plants, and harvest and taste edible plants. Those in the art making sessions learned techniques such as papermaking, printmaking, drawing and collage.

Participants completed a series of assessments measuring anxiety, depression, stress, and mood. The researchers found that the gardening and art making groups experienced similar improvements in mental health over time, with the gardeners reporting slightly less anxiety than the art makers.

Given the relatively small number of participants and the duration of the study, the researchers were still able to demonstrate evidence of what medical doctors call the dosage effects of gardening — that is, how much gardening someone needs to do to see improvements in mental health.

“Larger-scale studies will further reveal how gardening is associated with changes in mental health,” explained Guy. “We believe this research holds promise for mental well-being, plants in health care, and public health. It’s great to see other researchers use our work as a basis for those kinds of studies.

The idea of ​​using gardening to promote better health and well-being – known as therapeutic horticulture – dates back to the 19th century. But why does being around plants make us feel better? The answer may be found in the important role of plants in human evolution and the rise of civilization, the study’s authors explain.

As a species, we are naturally attracted to plants because we rely on them for food, shelter and other means of our survival. Whatever the underlying reasons, many of the study participants left the experiment with a newfound passion, the researchers noted. “At the end of the experiment, many participants not only said how much they enjoyed the sessions but also how they planned to continue gardening,” says Guy.

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