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How gardening can make us happier and healthier

If anyone doubts gardeners are a happy bunch, just visit a garden center in May. Shoppers high with spring fever swarm greenhouses, giddy as they fill their carts with the fervor of a rabbit eating a fresh rhododendron.

Claiming that gardening improves people’s lives is a fine thing to say, but can it be proven? Texas A & M University assembled a list of gardening’s positive life effects, and it’s based on well-cited research.

Following are their fascinating evidence-based findings:

  • People who spend time around plants tend to have better relationships with others. Gardening and working with nature causes measurable increases in compassion for fellow humans. People who care for nature are more likely to care for others. People who tend plants are more willing to help others.
  • People who have flowers around their home, yard, business or office are happier than those who don’t. Flowers improve mood and reduce stress-related depression, while fostering an optimistic outlook.
  • Gardening improves concentration and memory by 20%. Being around plants, indoors or out, improves work quality and accuracy.
  • Hospital recovery rooms that have plants or window views of attractive gardens help patients heal faster. Patients interacting with plants have shorter recovery times after medical procedures.
  • Children who spend time around plants learn more easily. Plants help children with Attention Deficit Disorder to focus, concentrate and interact more.
  • Being around plants makes people better at their jobs by increasing their energy and feelings of vitality.
  • People who spend time gardening outdoors have better mental health and a more positive outlook on life than those who spend most of their time indoors.
  • Gardening helps people channel stress and frustration into something constructive. Working with plants reduces stress and helps cope with negative feelings.
  • Access to parks and outdoor recreation areas increases people’s physical activity, which improves their health and mood. When people are healthier, the overall cost of healthcare decreases. Residents of neighborhoods with beautiful parks are healthier.
  • Parks and public gardens foster an appreciation for nature that inspires people to take greater responsibility for the care and protection of their environment.
  • Neighborhoods with parks and gardens have lower crime rates. When people are involved in public gardening, they tend to be more politically active, and the communities become more closely knit.
  • People associate beautifully landscaped areas with a higher quality of life, which in turn attracts businesses and opportunities.
  • Beautifying roadways not only makes them more attractive, but it improves driver’s moods and attitudes. Driver safety increases, and well-landscaped roads have less accidents.
  • As parts of a community improve their beauty with increased gardening and beautification, it starts a ripple effect of self-improvement. When adjacent neighborhoods or communities see the improvement, competition usually begins, causing what’s termed the ‘upgrade’ effect.

It’s no wonder gardening, with all its forms, has been called America’s number one pastime. Research simply backs up what people who work with plants have always known: there’s a secret ingredient that somehow makes lives better.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler’s Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at [email protected]

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