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  • Writer's pictureHeather Davis

Pandemic Rx: Green medicine

Updated: Jul 31, 2020

Don’t let the malls, all the concrete and the ubiquitous screens fool you. We are designed at our core for connection to the natural world. Since ancient times, the therapeutic properties of nature and its greenspace have been well-established.

A common way people interact with nature is through gardening and tending plants. Scientists have found that the interaction between person and plant is key to mental and physical well-being.

It can be especially helpful these days.

A comprehensive review of studies (Soga et al.) explored the broad positive impact that exposure to plants and gardening has on our overall health. So much so, that access to greenspace is being heralded - by both social scientists and medical professionals alike - as something close to a cure-all.

Mental health benefits

Spending time in a garden or in other greenspace, can help us slow down and breathe through difficult times. So too can potting a single plant.

Gardening and interacting with plants help reduce psychological stress, and alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. Natural surroundings also help improve mood and increase levels of optimism.

Our brain thrives in the garden.

Interacting with plants has shown to increase our problem-solving ability and strengthen our attention span. In a world drawn to distraction, being in a garden or tending to plants indoors, greenery helps us be in the present moment.

Being in the garden or in other natural settings can help us deal with unpredictability and promote peace of mind and acceptance of things we have little control over. It also promotes a growth-mindset and fuels our perseverance. In the dirt and with the roots we wait and watch and learn to try again.

Studies show that natural spaces aid with concentration for children with ADD/ADHD as well as lower rates of dementia later on. Time in the garden feeds brain functioning throughout our lifetime.

Beyond the brain, the rest of our body also benefits tremendously from the time spent with plants.

Physical health benefits

According to current government statistics, not enough American adults eat fresh fruits and vegetables and kids are eating even less. For children, exposure to fresh foods grown in their own or a community garden, can establish a pattern of nutritious eating and the rewards of a healthy body that comes with it.

Gardening has shown to help lower our blood pressure as well as our body mass. It has shown to reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease – also known as those perilous ‘underlying conditions,’ which are sadly and fatally exacerbating the coronavirus pandemic.

But the benefits of the garden begin even before the bounty.

Working even a small plot of space can be a workout. Studies at Harvard Medical School examined how 30 minutes of gardening activities can burn 135 calories for a 125-lb. individual. Gardening can help develop strength and motor skills.

“The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul.” — Alfred Austin

The upsides continue

Beyond our mental and physical health, green space keeps on giving. Research confirms a whole host of psychological benefits associated with the gardening, including: increased self-esteem, life satisfaction and quality, and increased kindness and generosity.

This can be especially valuable to share with kids who might be spending even more time on screens these days learning remotely. Research has confirmed that spending just two hours each week in natural settings helps our mental and physical health and well-being.

A garden project

I like my plants like I like my kid: hearty, independent and with the ability to withstand the lean times. That’s why I love a succulent.

As the new Garden teacher, my one-student class and I will be prepping and designing a serious succulent garden project. Like with any big project, there will be many scowl-inducing days of de-weeding, cutting, pulling and soil preparation prior to actual planting.

There’s also brain work involved for my lone pupil in researching the common and scientific plant names and light, soil, water and other requirements for the up to 40 different clipping types currently being babied in preparation.

Nurturing these plants will remind us that things take time, that not everything will go as planned and most importantly, that no matter the circumstances, there is something good and beautiful that can come out of all this.

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” — Audrey Hepburn


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