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Why you should try gardening this summer

There’s more than one reason to find your green fingers, so here’s why you should try gardening this summer.

Gardening is a favourite pastime for many, but the hobby has now been proven to be good for us, too. A recent survey by Squires Garden Centres found gardening to be beneficial for the mind, body and soul, so here’s why you should try gardening this summer.

It counts as exercise

A massive 93 per cent of those surveyed said that gardening helps keep them fit and healthy, while 20 per cent even went as far to say it was their main source of exercise. It may not seem too arduous, but the act of moving around the garden – chopping, mowing, weeding and sowing – actually offers a full body workout. What’s more, a 2006 study by Pennsylvania’s University of Scranton found that prolonged light exercise – like gardening – can burn more calories than a gym session. It may be lower in intensity, but gardening also tends to last twice or three times as long as a trip to the gym, meaning modest calorie-burning starts to add up. ‘Gardening is a great way to achieve a low impact workout, full of movement and stretching but without the strain on the joints of pounding the streets,’ explains Sarah Squire, Deputy Chairman at Squire’s. It won’t just burn calories either – this kind of exercise is great for cardiovascular health and blood pressure and can reduce your risk of stroke, too, according to studies published in the journal Stroke.

It can make you feel happy

But it’s not only physical rewards you’ll be reaping. Gardening’s best kept secret is in fact its ability to help your mind – 92 per cent of people felt that gardening gave them space to think and clear their mind, while a further 45 per cent agreed gardening made them feel happy. Why is this? A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research noted that exercising with a view of the natural world saw subjects reporting significantly greater positive effects on their mental wellbeing than after exercise alone. Another school of thought comes from the soil. Researchers at the University of Bristol found that bacteria commonly found living in soil may have a positive effect on our mood. But perhaps the answer is just altogether more simple – being out in the open air, surrounded by nature, soaking up some vitamin D and doing something that offers clarity, order and distraction is thoroughly therapeutic.

It can treat anxiety

Forty per cent of respondents in the Squires survey said gardening also made them feel relaxed and calm. This is thought to be because gardens restore a sense of control – such as growing a potted plant from a cutting – which is the psychological counter to stress and anxiety. Gardening is also extremely distracting, which can be an immediate release from anxious thoughts and tensions. Indeed, in a study in the Netherlands (as reported by CNN), two groups of students were told to either read indoors or garden for thirty minutes after completing a stressful task. The group that faired better? Those that gardened reported being in a better mood than the group that read, and also exhibited lowers levels of stress hormone cortisol.

It’s a proven therapy

Indeed the evidence is so compelling that the health factor has been given its own name – horticultural therapy – and it’s being rolled out to treat hospital patients and calm prisoners in jails, like the notorious Rikers Island Jail in New York. Here, they take part in the prison’s GreenHouse Project which has transformed a neglected site into a small oasis with butterfly and bird gardens, a medieval-style herb garden and a waterfall. ‘Healing gardens’ have also been set up in hospitals and rehab centres in the U.S.

It’s free!

Such a wealth of benefits, and yet gardening doesn’t cost a thing. Many of us have access to a garden – and if we don’t, communal spaces or allotments work, too – and it doesn’t have to involve fancy flowers and expensive furnishings. Many plants, flowers, vegetables and fruits can be grown from cuttings, while a simple tidy up of your surroundings – weeding, cutting back and mowing – will expose you to the wonderful benefits of gardening. So, what are you waiting for?