Experts estimate that a staggering 21 percent of U.S. adults will experience a mood disorder—such as depression or anxiety—at some point in their lives.1
Not to mention, Alzheimer’s disease (AD)—a crippling, progressive cognitive disorder—affects 35 percent of people ages 85 and older.2
But you’re NOT defenseless against these increasingly common problems.
In fact, two new studies suggest you can protect your MOOD and your MIND with this “dirty” little habit.
Here’s what I mean…
“Nip” mood problems “in the bud”
In the first new study, researchers with the University of Florida assessed anxiety, depression, and stress levels in 32 healthy, young women.3
Then, they randomly divided the women into two groups…
The first group participated in “gardening therapy” twice a week for 60 minutes. In this therapy, they learned how to plant seeds and harvest crops, such as tomatoes, beans, and basil.
The second group participated in “art therapy” twice a week for 60 minutes—where they created drawings, prints, and mixed-media collages.
After just four weeks of these routines, both groups experienced improvements in mood and well-being.
However, across most categories, the gardeners clearly exhibited more progress than the artists… especially when it came to their anxiety scores!
Of course, even before I came across this study, I’ve often talked about the benefits of working outside in the yard or garden. For one, it exposes you to natural sunlight, which will trigger your skin’s production of the all-important vitamin D.
Plus, gardening is a great way to stay active, get your heart pumping, and build some core muscle strength. Not to mention, you get to enjoy all the delicious fruits (and vegetables) of your labor!
When it comes to gardening’s effect on mood, the study’s lead researcher, Charles Guy, Ph.D., wasn’t at all surprised by these results. He noted that plants have played an essential role in human evolution—by providing both nourishment and medicinal remedies. So, in a way, we’re “hard-wired” to benefit—both physically and mentally—from digging in the dirt.
Granted, as I mentioned earlier, this study involved women who weren’t already struggling with any type of clinical mood disorder. But the researchers believe that because there was such a profound improvement in anxiety, depression, and stress scores in mentally healthy people… we’re likely to see even BIGGER gains for people with clinical disorders.
Now, let’s move onto the second study that shows how gardening also protects your MIND…
Gardening thwarts cognitive decline
For this study, researchers assessed cognitive function, functional capacity, and apathy levels in 141 nursing home residents diagnosed with AD.4
(Apathy, or lack of emotion and motivation, is one of the leading symptoms exhibited among AD patients. It often develops as a result of damage to the brain’s frontal lobes.5 Experts associate it with more advanced cases and other harmful outcomes.)
Next, the researchers divided the patients into two groups…
The first group received “usual care,” which involved singing, aerobic exercises, and puzzle games. The second group received “usual care” plus “gardening therapy.” This involved the planting, growing, and harvesting of plants… as well as cooking and eating fresh plants.
After 10 weeks, the gardening group exhibited significantly more improvement than the usual care group.
Specifically, they had lower apathy scores, which means they retained more motivation to participate in activities, care for themselves, and communicate.
And that’s not all…
The gardening group also performed substantially better on cognitive tests that assessed concentration, attention, recall, and naming skills.
What an amazing outcome for a devastating brain disease that currently has ZERO effective drug solutions!
Keep up those good “green” habits
As with the first study, the researchers in the AD study drew a few conclusions about why gardening seems to benefit the brain in such a positive way. They referred to the “biophilia hypothesis,” which suggests that there’s a vital, emotional connection between human beings and other living things that helps us maintain physical and mental health.
And when it comes to people with AD, they said gardening seems to promote a “sense of peace and shelter, effectively reducing stress, depression, anxiety, and improving the quality of life.”
Granted, the gardening group didn’t sustain these improvements for very long after they completed the 10-week intervention. But they probably just needed to keep up their gardening routine to maintain all the important cognitive benefits! (I would imagine the same holds true for you and me, too—making those “green” habits even more important to good health.)
With that in mind, let’s talk about some ways to keep gardening a regular part of your life this fall…
My fall gardening to-do list
The work you put in now to your yard or garden will make life far easier come spring. And as these two studies suggest, it will also help keep your MOOD and your MIND in good working order… for years to come!
Here are SIX things to cross off your gardening to-do list this month:
- Plant trees, shrubs, fall flowers, and spring bulbs. According to many master gardeners, there’s no better time than RIGHT NOW to plant new deciduous trees and shrubs, perennials, and spring bulbs. In fact, most plants love the cooler temperatures at this time of year, as it allows them to establish new root systems.6
- If you act fast, you can still plant fall vegetables. Depending on which zone you live in, you may still have time to plant root vegetables (beets, radishes, turnips), leafy greens (spinach, Swiss chard), and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts).7 If you get frost at night in your area, just cover your garden with a “grow cloth.” It will allow the sunshine and moisture in during the day, but protects the plants at night from the cold.
- Pull up weeds and dead leaves. Simply put: The more you clean up now, they less you’ll have to do in the spring!
- Start a compost pile. October is a great time to start a compost pile, using all the dead weeds you just pulled, dead foliage, and kitchen waste. It will also make a great addition to your soil, come spring!
- Throw down a layer of mulch. Many people only think of mulch in the spring and summer. But the added layer will ward off weed growth and protect your plants during the fall and winter months.
- Divide perennials. Now is also the time to divide overgrown perennials—like hostas, daylilies, and irises—and replant them.
In the end, a growing body of research suggests that working outside in the yard or garden protects you against anxiety, depression, stress, and even cognitive decline.
So, while the long, hot days of summer are behind us… you should still strive to spend some time outside each day. With the cooler temps, you may just enjoy “working in the ground” more than ever!
- “Any mood disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health, accessed 8/26/22. (nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-mood-disorder#:~:text=Prevalence%20of%20Any%20Mood%20Disorder%20Among%20Adults,-Based%20on%20diagnostic&text=An%20estimated%209.7%25%20of%20U.S.,than%20for%20males%20(7.7%25).)
- “2021 Alzheimer’s disease facts and figures.” Alzheimer’s Association, 3/23/21. (alz-journals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/alz.12328#:~:text=Age%20is%20the%20greatest%20of,dementia%20(see%20Prevalence%20section).)
- “Growing Evidence Gardening Cultivates Mental Health.” Medscape, 7/13/22. (medscape.com/viewarticle/977115)
- “Gardening May Weed Out Dementia-Related Apathy.” Medscape, 4/22/21. (medscape.com/viewarticle/949778
- “Apathy in dementia.” Alzheimer’s Society, accessed 8/17/22. (alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/symptoms-and-diagnosis/apathy-dementia)
- “October Gardening Tips.” Costa Farms, accessed 8/17/22. (costafarms.com/get-growing/news/october-gardening-tips)
- “What to Plant in October.” Sustainable Food Center, 10/2/15. (sustainablefoodcenter.org/latest/gardening/what-to-plant-in-october#:~:text=Root%20vegetables%3A%20Plant%20beets%2C%20radishes,and%20several%20shades%20of%20orange.)