vegetable garden

Caring for a garden can have many mental and physical health benefits. Photo courtesy of Chiot’s Run and Creative Commons.

There’s no denying that we’re living through some seriously crazy times right now. The novel Coronavirus outbreak has been classified as a pandemic and continues to affect more and more people, both physically and mentally, around the world. Los Angeles, my home city, has been issued a “Safer at Home” emergency order in which everyone is encouraged to stay at home as much as possible. A closer look at the order, though, reveals that “Outdoor Activities” are included in the list of pastimes people are still allowed to partake in. As hiking trails have gotten more crowded, forcing some to completely close, my regular walk or run around my neighborhood is the highlight of my day and one of the only respites I have from the claustrophobia that comes with sheltering in place. But I’m lucky. Not everyone lives in a neighborhood where it’s safe to go on long walks or runs. So how can everyone enjoy the outdoors during this time of restrictions? Well, perhaps we should be looking more closely at our own backyards.
It turns out research has shown that having a home garden can result in a myriad of physical and mental health benefits. One of the often-overlooked benefits of backyard gardens is increased food security. Home gardens, especially those in cities, I think tend to be considered only minorly productive – something to supplement your meals once in a while rather than something to be dependent on. But during times like this where there’s a line just to get into the grocery store, the productive potential of home gardens should perhaps be taken more seriously. The findings of a literature review published in 2013 found that many people in developing countries recovering from economic or political turmoil often use gardens to increase their resiliency and food access. It was found that some people in Pacific Island countries even grow their staple root crops in their home gardens. A synthesis of literature on the subject found that home gardens are important assets to resource-poor areas. Although the US is not considered a resource-poor country, a pandemic like this reveals the weak spots in our food supply chain and the value of being able to harvest food from your backyard.
There’s also research out there that speaks to the mental health benefits being outside in the garden can bring. A recent study conducted in Australia looked at the relationship between gardening and wellbeing in people aged 60-95. The participants of this study reported that gardening resulted in physical wellbeing, which translated into more positive attitudes towards aging. The researchers note that gardening can be a good way for seniors to remain active when they are no longer able to participate in other kinds of physical activities. This seems especially relevant right now as many seniors find themselves confined to their homes for their own safety and may not be able to participate in their usual forms of exercise.
And it’s not just older people who can benefit from tending a garden. A study conducted this past year in 2019 interviewed a small number of young YMCA residents who were exposed to outdoor volunteer initiatives once a week for 9 weeks. Participants who were interviewed said their time spent outdoors allowed them to feel less stressed, and researchers suggest that being outside helped them manage their emotions. It seems as though having a backyard garden could provide people dealing with the stressful effects of quarantining with a bit of relief. So, during this difficult time, it might do many of us a lot of good to step outside and plant a garden.

Sources:

Galhena, D.H., Freed, R. & Maredia, K.M. (2013) Home gardens: a promising approach to enhance household food security and wellbeing. Agric & Food Secur 2, 8. https://doi.org/10.1186/2048-7010-2-8

Richardson, M., Richardson, E., Hallam, J., & Ferguson, F. J. (2019). Opening Doors to Nature: bringing calm and raising aspirations of vulnerable young people through nature-based intervention. The Humanistic Psychologist. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/hum0000148

Scott, T. L., Masser, B. M., & Pachana, N. A. (2020). Positive aging benefits of home and community gardening activities: Older adults report enhanced self-esteem, productive endeavours, social engagement and exercise. SAGE open medicine8, 2050312120901732. https://doi.org/10.1177/2050312120901732