We've spent decades helping individuals nurture their wellbeing by working in the outdoors. Community growing projects, some led by our own Master Gardeners, are now recognised by National Health practitioners as a cost-effective way of treatment. Growing food the organic way means not using harmful chemicals, encouraging wildlife, and being mindful of sustainability – all of which give added value to the benefits of working outdoors in nature.
Whether you grow alone, or alongside others in the allotment or community garden, here are some reasons why it's healthy to grow fruit and vegetables. (Our thanks to Sustain for sharing the research papers listed below.)
Gardening is a physical activity that burns 200-500 calories an hour and helps maintain a healthy weight, reducing the risk of obesity. Did you know it is second only to weight training as an effective way to increase bone intensity? Growing vegetables gives access to fresh produce and can support a healthy eating programme. See Gardening and food growing for a healthy weight.
Mental health and well-being
Research has shown that gardening can reduce stress, and associated depression, in several ways. These include immersion in a natural scene and engagement in a positive creative activity. Sufferers talk of the garden being a refuge, one that helps feelings of calm and relaxation – as well as competence, enjoyment, curiosity, and hope. See Gardening and food growing to reduce stress and stress-related illness and also the 2016 report from MIND: A review of nature-based interventions for mental health care.
The activity of gardening provides a non-pharmacological approach to helping dementia sufferers. Research shows that horticultural therapy can improve attention, lessen stress and agitation and even help with sleep patterns. See Gardening and growing for people with dementia.
For prisoners with a history of substance abuse, gardening was shown to reduce hostility, risk-taking and depression. It provided a sense of purpose. The patience required for nurturing plants helps reduce the impulse for instant gratification, one of the drivers of substance abuse. See An Horticultural Intervention with Substance Misusing Offenders - Garden Organic’s work at HMP Rye Hill.
And for a general survey on the benefits of gardening and food growing, see this report called Growing Health Benefits. It covers mental and physical wellbeing arising from working in the garden - from dealing with depression to coping with serious illnesses such as cancer.
This report, Gardens and Health from the King's Fund, highlights how, at different points in the health and social care system, gardens and gardening can make a strong contribution to keeping us well and independent. It calls for greater integration of gardening within the NHS and public health policy.