Gardening and home farming isn’t all about achieving the best vegetation and greenery, it’s also about soothing the human spirit. Studies have suggested time and time again that gardening can reduce stress, alleviate depression, and quell anxiety for individuals with these struggles. Whether is alleviating anxiety, reducing stress on the heart, or reducing the risk of degenerative diseases in the elderly like dementia, gardening may guarantee a simple and natural alternative to other stress relieving treatments.

According to CNN, studies in the Netherlands have suggested that gardening is a great alternative to other stress relieving/leisure activities. The study used two groups to perform the same stressful task. Thereafter, one group was told to read indoors for thirty minutes, while the other was sent to garden for the same amount of time. The study found that those that had just finished gardening were less stressed, and in a better mood than those that had just finished reading. In fact, the stress hormone cortisol, was found in lower levels within the gardening group.

Andrea Faber Taylor Ph.D., a horticulture professor in the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) commented on the study, stating that humans have a finite capacity for directed attention. When that same capacity is used up, we become “attention-fatigued” and stressed as a result. “We live in a society where we’re just maxing ourselves out all the time in terms of paying attention,” says Taylor. She and other experts have suggested to find stress relief by switching our focus and instead engaging in “involuntary attention,” an easy and effortless form of attention humans use enjoy nature. Some experts specializing in depression and anxiety treatments have taken these studies into serious consideration, treating symptoms and disorders by having patients garden.

USA Today reports that Horticultural Therapy, which treats anxiety and depression by having patients garden, is providing us with proven results on reducing stress and anxiety. Its benefits stem from a combination of physical activity, focus on natural surroundings, and the overall satisfaction with the work. Horticultural Therapy is becoming increasingly popular throughout North America, as more and more clinics and facilities use the activity as a means to treating chronic depression. Yet gardening is not limited to only treating mental health, as it can also have an impact on physical health for older individuals.

The Guardian reports that another research study conducted in Stockholm suggests that regular gardening can cut the risk of a stroke or heart attack by as much as 30 percent among individuals ages 60+. According to the study, gardening and yard maintenance have just as many health benefits as regular exercise for this age group. The activity requires an increased overall energy expenditure, which is a necessary process for bodies deteriorating with age.

Some other long term studies report other positive effects gardening has on elderly individuals. Researchers conducted studies on nearly 3,000 adults, tracking dementia and alzheimer’s while evaluating patient lifestyle. After a 16 year period, the studies found that daily gardening was the single biggest risk reducer for dementia, reducing risk from 36-47 percent! Robin Jacobs of Eartheasy states that the various critical functions gardening requires, including use of strength, endurance, dexterity, problem solving, and sensory awareness, prevent elderly bodies from deteriorating at a rapid state. This constant physical and mental movement reduces the general risk of degenerative diseases like dementia and alzheimer’s. Gardening may very well be the secret practice for a longer, healthier life.

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