GAINESVILLE, Florida — If you’ve been feeling down lately or particularly stressed, researchers at the University of Florida suggest you take more interest in nature. Their study finds that gardening helps reduce stress, anxiety and depression in a group of healthy women who attend gardening classes twice a week.
Best of all, you don’t have to be an experienced gardening pro to reap the mental benefits. Each participant had never gardened before participating in the study.
“Previous studies have shown that gardening can help improve the mental health of people who have health conditions or medical conditions. Our study shows that healthy people can also benefit from a boost in mental well-being. through gardening,” said lead researcher Charles Guy, professor emeritus in the Department of Environmental Horticulture at UF/IFAS, in an academic statement.
How does gardening make us feel comfortable?
A total of 32 women aged 26 to 49 participated in this project. Each woman had a history of taking prescription medications for depression or anxiety. The researchers assigned half the group to a twice-weekly gardening class, while the other half took an art class. The two classes met twice a week for a total of eight weeks.
“Gardening and art activities involve learning, planning, creativity and physical movement, and both are used therapeutically in medical settings. This makes them more comparable, scientifically speaking, than, say, gardening and bowling or gardening and reading,” says Professor Guy.
Gardening sessions taught students how to compare and sow seeds, transplant various plants, harvest and taste edible plants. During this time, art classes covered techniques such as drawing, collage, printmaking, and papermaking.
Each participant also completed a series of surveys measuring mood, anxiety, stress levels and depression. Overall, women in the gardening and art cohorts experienced similar improvements in their mental health over time. However, gardeners reported slightly less anxiety than artists.
Although this project was small in scope, the study authors still believe they were able to clearly demonstrate what doctors would call the “dosage effects of gardening,” referring to how long it takes to garden to see improvements in mental health.
“Larger scale studies could reveal more about the correlation between gardening and changes in mental health,” adds Professor Guy. “We believe this research holds promise for mental well-being, plants in healthcare and public health. It would be great to see other researchers using our work as a basis for these kinds of studies.
Is gardening an evolutionary antidepressant?
The idea that gardening promotes well-being is certainly not a new theory. Therapeutic horticulture has been around since the 19e century. As for why greenery helps people feel good, the study authors hypothesize that the answer has a deep connection to human evolution. Humans have a natural attraction to plants because they have relied on them for food and shelter for thousands of years.
“At the end of the experiment, many participants were saying not only how much they enjoyed the sessions, but also how they planned to continue gardening,” Professor Guy concludes.
The study is published in PLOS ONE.