Recent research around the world shows that a little garden work or a walk in a park are better for reducing stress and improving mental sharpness than coffee, candy or other quick remedies we reach for when we are tired.
The effectiveness of being surrounded by nature extends to simply having nature pictures in the work environment. Memory improves and attention to detail increases just by stopping work to fully enjoy a walk through an arboretum.
Researchers found that the same 10-minute walk, taken in town, does not boost the sharpness of our thinking or our mood. In another study, the participants took a 10-minute break in a room full of nature photos. Even the photos helped somewhat, though not as much as being among trees and plants.
One of the researchers, Dr. Marc Berman at the University of Michigan, said: “You don’t necessarily have to enjoy the walk to get the benefit. What you like is not necessarily going to be good for you.”
The difference between a walk in town and time with nature is the amount of attention we have to pay to what is going on around us. Landscape is pleasing and relaxing; busy areas such as streets require our attention to other pedestrians, cars, bicycles, etc.
Berman and his group found that a walk on a quiet sidewalk with containers of plants will also benefit our productivity and mood. The Rotman Research Institute in Toronto is studying the effect of nature on anxiety, depression, and length of hospital stays and rehabilitation.
Therapy gardens have been planted in many cities, providing wheelchair-height raised beds of scented plants and herbs. Urban designer Jan Gehl would like landscape education to require a component of this focus to improve our health.
Coffee and candy, traditionally used as afternoon pick-me-ups, actually work the opposite way, adding stress chemicals and depleting energy.
Michael Posner studies attention at the University of Oregon and has found that the ability to accurately perform repetitive tasks increased when the workers were required to take a 10-minute walk in nature.
Berman found that performance improved by 20 percent after a walk through an arboretum, even in the middle of a Michigan winter.
In addition to reducing stress, gardening has the added benefits of exercise, learning, social activity and leisure.
The core of horticulture therapy includes the tangible rewards of a beautiful landscape, home-grown food, flowers and serenity.
Recent research also indicated that people who are mentally and physically active are 47 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s.
Neurological surgeon Dr. Paul Nussbaum of the University of Pittsburgh Medical School considers gardening to be one of the top three excellent mental workouts. See more about brain healthy activities at http://www.fitbrains.com.
How we garden makes a difference. Completing a few items on a short to-do list can increase good feelings, both physical and emotional.
Digging, chopping, pulling, reaching and using garden tools relieve stress and reduce physical tension. Take a few minutes to stretch and warm up before picking up the tools. Take stretch and relaxation breaks during a long period of gardening.
On days when there is not enough time or energy for the aerobic gardening activities, a 10-minute stroll around the garden can help center your mind.
Gardening requires mental focus, physical movement and goal setting, to say nothing of dedication and commitment. We benefit emotionally and spiritually from watching the progress of what we planted, noticing the seasons, enjoying texture and colors, as well as from using what we grow to make a bouquet, a centerpiece or a salad.