This post is also available in Dutch.
I have recently got a garden in which I spend almost every spare minute. Sowing, planting, growing cuttings: I love doing it all. I also feel that gardening helps me feel less stressed. Could that really be the case? What does science have to say about this?
Gardening = movement + nature
Gardening has great potential to reduce stress because gardening is a combination of movement and nature. We know that physical exercise not only reduces stress and anxiety, but that it can also protect against the negative effects of stress on your health. And being in nature also seems to be good for you. In a previous blog, we already wrote how nature can contribute to refreshing your attention. Additionally, a rich natural environment can reduce the bodily and psychological effects of stress, compared to more urban environments like streets. People, for example, have lower blood pressure in natural environments, and report feeling less stressed.
Gardening or reading a magazine?
So, there is plenty of reason to study whether gardening can specifically help reduce stress. Gardeners themselves do mention that stress reduction is an important reason to do gardening. Whether gardening really does reduce stress in comparison to other relaxing activities was investigated in a Dutch study. The participants were people who owned a garden at the garden complex Amstelglorie in Amsterdam. First, the participants performed a difficult test which then gave each a result that indicated a performance that was below average, and then they had to verbally report their score to the researchers. This was indeed stressful, because the participants’ moods went down and their levels of cortisol, a well-known stress hormone, went up.
Next, half of the number of participants went outside to do 30 minutes of mildly strenuous gardening activities, such as trimming, weeding, or sowing, while the other half read a magazine (not about gardening) in the shelters that were built at the garden complex. Even though they sat down in a comfortable location, they were not able to look outside. After this, the researchers again measured participants’ moods and cortisol levels. The results showed that the group that had done some gardening recovered more quickly from the stress test, both in mood as in cortisol level, compared to the group that had read a magazine.
Thus, it seems that gardening can indeed reduce stress, and to a larger extent than reading a magazine. This result is also in line with a meta-analysis from 2017 that showed that gardening has various health benefits.
Gardening in times of corona
I am not the only one who likes to engage in gardening: since the corona pandemic many people have started gardening more, also in the current season. And for a good reason: gardeners seem to experience less stress from COVID-19 than people who do not do any gardening. I would therefore like to inspire you to start gardening. You don’t even need a garden or allotment for this: you can already do so much with just a sunny window sill!