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Why gardening is so good for you

Joshua Resnick / Shutterstock

If you want to stop and smell the roses in old age, you should start planting those flowers now.

It might sound too good to be true, but studies show that, in the long run, doing garden work has similar health benefits to those obtained by doing exercise at a gym. These results were published in an article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, based on research that suggests that, besides sports, other leisure activities involving physical activity, such as gardening, when practiced regularly, help reduce the incidence of death from cancer and cardiovascular diseases specifically, and from death by any cause in general.

According to the paper, activities such as planting flowers, pruning bushes or trees, or digging flower beds, among others, bring health benefits to our body similar to those associated with regular exercise. The study used 12 years of data covering nearly 90,000 total participants in the USA aged 40-85. It showed that participants who engaged in leisure activities such as gardening, dancing, going for a brisk walk, or swimming received notable benefits.

The data was supplied by the National Health Interview Survey, carried out annually in the United States by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It showed that people who spent at least 10 minutes to an hour per week of these activities experienced an 18% reduction in their risk of death overall. This benefit rose to 31% among those who dedicated 2.5 to 5 hours of their time to a hobby requiring physical activity. Generally speaking, the way to get greater benefits was shown to be engaging in more strenuous activity, rather than increasing the time spent on it.

This isn’t the first study to show that being physically active, even without going to the gym or participating in sports, gives people better quality of life and a longer life expectancy. Other studies have also shown that activities like gardening improve people’s mental health, helping reduce depression and anxiety.

The authors of the study note that “beneficial association between leisure time physical activity (PA) and mortality starts from a low dose”; as noted above, a significant benefit came from just 10 minutes to an hour of physical activity per week. That means that even busy people with little time to spare (that is to say, most adults) have no excuse not to improve their own health. In short, if we spend some time to plant the roses now, we’ll be able to take more time to stop and smell them later on.

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