Gardening can help reduce stress, improve overall health

Editor's note: This is the latest in a series of biweekly columns from the Becker County Master Gardeners, who are part of the University of Minnesota Extension.

Gardening can be a great way to reduce stress, improve overall mental health and get more exercise. (File photo)

According to Anne Harding (, there are several steps to instant calm.

The sensory experience of gardening “allows people to connect to this primal state,“ James Jiler, the founder and executive director of Urban GreenWorks, a Miami-based nonprofit that creates garden and park programs for low-income neighborhoods.

“A lot of people (understand) that experience. They may not be able to put it into words, but they understand what’s happening.”

Working in the garden has other, less spiritual rewards. In addition to being a source of fresh, healthy produce, gardening can ease stress, keep you limber, and even improve your mood.
Here are just a few of the ways gardening can benefit your physical and mental health, and how you can start harvesting those benefits for you and your family.

Stress relief

Stress can cause irritability, headaches, stomach aches, heart attacks and worsen pre-existing conditions in the body.


A recent study in the Netherlands suggests that gardening can fight stress even better than other relaxing leisure activities. After completing a stressful task, two groups of people were instructed to either read indoors or garden for 30 minutes. Afterward, the group that gardened reported being in a better mood than the reading group, and they also had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Better mental health

The effortless attention of gardening may even help improve depression symptoms. In a study conducted in Norway, people who had been diagnosed with depression, persistent low mood, or “bipolar II disorder” spent six hours a week growing flowers and vegetables. After three months, half of the participants had experienced a measurable improvement in their depression symptoms. What’s more, their mood continued to be better three months after the gardening program ended.


Gardening gets you out in the fresh air and sunshine—and it gets your blood moving. There are lots of different movements in gardening, so you get some exercise benefits out of it as well. But digging, planting, weeding, and repetitive tasks that require strength or stretching are excellent forms of low-impact exercise, especially for people who find more vigorous exercise a challenge, such as those who are older, have disabilities, or suffer from chronic pain.

Brain health

Some research suggests that the physical activity associated with gardening can help lower the risk of developing dementia.


The food you grow yourself is the freshest food you can eat. People who are growing food tend to eat healthy. Studies of after-school gardening programs suggest that kids who garden are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables, as well as giving new foods a try.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), moderate-intensity level activity for 2.5 hours each week can reduce the risk for obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke, depression, colon cancer and premature death. The CDC considers gardening a moderate-intensity level activity and can help you to achieve that 2.5-hour goal each week. Additionally, those that choose gardening as their moderate-intensity exercise are more likely to exercise 40-50 minutes longer on average than those that choose activities like walking or biking. By venturing outdoors to various community garden spaces around Michigan, you not only assist in keeping their community vibrant, but become healthier in the process. For example:

  • “A 10% increase in nearby green space was found to decrease a person’s health complaints in an amount equivalent to a five year reduction in that person’s age” according to the Gardening Matters nonprofit of Minneapolis’ page, “Multiple Benefits of Community Gardens.”

  • Exercising both the arms and legs is recommended to help prevent illnesses like coronary disease. With most everyday activities only involving the arms, gardening is a great way to incorporate the entire body while exercising.

  • According to the journal Biological Psychiatry, some experts even say the fresh air can help prevent Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and result in higher test scores among students.

Other benefits

In addition to health benefits, gardens are also known to increase property values and save money when grocery shopping. With so many options and resources for both community and personal garden development available in Michigan there is no reason not to enjoy the outdoors this season by growing a vibrant, beneficial garden and getting your exercise in the process!

This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit To have a digest of information delivered straight to your email inbox, visit To contact an expert in your area, visit, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).


The Becker County Master Gardener program is operated by the University of Minnesota Extension.

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