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‘The green pill’ — the physical and mental benefits of the great outdoors

Our insightful, inspirational Gardening Expert Mark Lane  who you may enjoy watching on BBC Gardeners’ World and BBC Morning Live — praises the physical and mental benefits of the great outdoors. From meandering through meadows to sowing and growing in the garden, becoming a ‘nature appreciator’ can be lifechanging.  

If I told you that there is an activity that you can do that gives you a full body and mind workout every time you do it, I am certain you will jump at it. Can you hazard a guess? Well, no surprise, but gardening — whether inside or outside — is good for relaxation, exercise, solace and recovery. It’s an important activity that can be enjoyed at any age and throughout our lives.

Being surrounded by greenery — perhaps with houseplants, or a garden or patio filled with flowers and edibles — has, according to the King’s Fund, been ‘linked to long-term reductions in overall reported health problems (including heart disease, cancer and musculoskeletal conditions)’. Gardening, green spaces and generally being outdoors can increase physical activity and improve mental health.

The great outdoors appeals to the child in all of us!

‘Go and play outdoors’ is a phrase often shouted by parents looking to have a break from their children for an hour or so. But for as long as we can remember, the simple but incredibly liberating act of venturing outdoors, surrounded by nature — either alone or socially with others — playing in the mud or puddles, running around, catching our breath, laughing and crying can (and should) remain with us no matter our age. I still think there is a five-year-old boy inside of me; every time I get my hands dirty in the garden — be it planting, weeding or sowing — I remember my youth and relish in the moment.

Gardens can be a physical and mental lifeline in later years

As we grow older, our relationship to gardens and gardening may change. Our bodies may have long ached in some areas and developed and become sore in others. We may tire more quickly or need assistance lifting heavy bags of compost. However, evidence shows that gardening aids independence and prevents loneliness, while creating a sense of achievement and responsibility. Designing an accessible garden is a worthwhile project that ticks two important boxes; it accommodates your physical needs — or future-proofs your green space — and appeals to your green-fingered interests, improving mental wellness.

The physical side of gardening has also been proven to prevent falls as repeated activity helps sustain good gait and balance. Dementia studies have found that exposure to gardens and nature helps to reduce agitation, aggression and other negative moods. The outdoors further boosts concentration, social connectivity, memory recollection. Sunlight generates the production of vitamin D which helps to support bone health, lowers blood pressure, prevents disease and promotes good mental health.

Green spaces and gardening can improve immune function by providing exposure to beneficial microbiota. They also support psychological restoration — providing respite for over-stimulated minds, for example. Beyond the body, these outdoor spaces help to decrease noise and air pollution.

There are no boundaries or borders with gardening — nature is non-discriminating

Gardening is a fulfilling solo pursuit. If you wish to meet like-minded people, there is a growing number of community gardens and local gardening clubs. Fun and friendship is at your (green) fingertips! After all, loneliness doesn’t just affect the elderly. Evidence reveals that isolation and loneliness is higher in 20- and 30-year-olds. Gardening with children is enriching, but it’s worth considering the fun to be had — and memories to be made — with those in their teens, thirties and nineties! Gardening does not discriminate on age, gender or sexuality. There are no boundaries or borders. Gardening is inclusive and its charm lies in bringing people together.

Always remember to take time out from (or in) your garden— sit back with a cuppa or your favourite tipple and enjoy the greenery. I am certain you will feel all the better for it. Aside from planting and pruning, take advantage of the great outdoors by forest bathing or embarking on a brisk stroll to clear the cobwebs. Whatever you decide, remember that we all need a dose of the ‘green pill’. No matter what your age, nature has healing powers. I encourage you to explore meadows, parks, your own back garden or your friend’s allotment. Keep sowing, strolling and engaging all your senses. Keep on being you.

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