Playing in the dirt has numerous health benefits for children and seniors alike.
It’s widely recognized that spending time in nature leaves humans feeling happier and younger, as previous studies have shown, but did you know that spending time cultivating nature can have even farther-reaching benefits?
As covered by Modern Farmer, a new report by The King’s Fund, a U.K. healthcare nonprofit, outlines exactly why doctors should prescribe gardening therapy as a remedy for everything from anxiety to cancer.
The report states that long-term exposure to green spaces is linked to overall better health and a reduction in cancer, heart disease, obesity, and musculoskeletal conditions. For seniors especially, tending to flowers and vegetables can reduce depression and loneliness, contribute to better balance (and, therefore, prevent falls), and help alleviate the symptoms of dementia, according to Garden Organic.
“Gardens can be so important to us particularly at difficult and painful times in our lives,” said Sarah Waller of the Association for Dementia Studies, University of Worcester. “Patients and residents in our health and social care system should have the opportunity to access therapeutic garden spaces wherever possible.”
Children who garden reap similar benefits: They’re less likely to experience anxiety and depression and they gain a sense of personal achievement in the process. Plus, a greater knowledge of where their food comes from, as Modern Farmer highlights, is a precursor to healthy eating as adults.
It’s difficult to tell whether the act of gardening itself or something else (more vitamin D from increased time in the sun, for example) is the direct cause of the health benefits. Skeptics say gardening is an activity for the wealthy, and money does correlate with better health care and fewer health issues. The Fund’s conclusion, then, is to encourage policymakers to make public parks and gardens readily available for everyone as a “legitimate health treatment option,” wrote Modern Farmer‘s Dan Nosowitz.
“If the report helps to emphasize and give greater understanding of these benefits so that they can be put to wider use for people’s health, that would be a great achievement,” said Mary Berry, president of the National Gardens Scheme, which commissioned the report.