How to garden your way to better physical & mental health

From building upper body strength to increasing self-esteem, flexing those green fingers benefits your body in more ways than one

07 October 2018 - 00:00 By Sally Nex
Just five minutes gardening outside gives you an improved sense of self-esteem.
Just five minutes gardening outside gives you an improved sense of self-esteem.
Image: 123RF/robertprzybysz

Next time you're feeling under the weather - a few aches and pains or just stressed out and down in the dumps - don't reach for a packet of pills, grab your garden fork instead.

We've gathered evidence from dozens of studies on how gardening affects your health and there's only one conclusion: gardening is incredibly good for you.

Here are five gardening prescriptions that you can use to improve your health right now. There's no better excuse to get into the garden - it's doctor's orders!


How: Planting containers (sitting); pruning, raking and mowing (standing).

Why: "Part of the treatment for any balance problem is physical exercise," says London general practitioner Dr Sam Everington. "If you're in a dark space it's not so effective, but if you're outside in good light it's far better. In a garden you're in a safe space, too."

Light physical exercise encourages good balance. Regular gardeners are 30% less likely to have falls than other adults.


How: Sowing seeds, pinching out seedlings, deadheading, planting broad beans.

Why: Fiddly gardening tasks hone fine motor skills, such as the "pincer" movements you make when fastening a button or writing.

One study found that, after gardening twice a week, women in Korea developed better dexterity than a non-gardening group.


How: Pricking out seedlings, tying in sweet peas, planting hanging baskets.

Why: You're constantly bending down and stretching up when you're gardening, and that helps keep joints supple and flexible. Gardeners who garden at least once a week stay more mobile for longer.

During "Sow and Grow", a three-year outreach programme, British horticultural therapy charity Thrive used techniques like tabletop gardening and adapted tools so visitors with mobility-limiting disabilities such as multiple sclerosis could keep gardening. As a result, they found mobility improved measurably.


How: Digging, wheeling wheelbarrows, raking, hoeing, cutting hedges, planting trees.

Why: More intense activities in gardening do wonders for upper body strength. Chief medical officers in the UK list gardening alongside weight training and sit-ups as activities for strengthening muscles.

In the US, elderly gardeners are shown to have stronger hands than the norm. Craig Lister of the Green Gym, a free outdoor conservation project in the UK, says the benefits last: "People are continuing to be more physically active even when they're not volunteering at a Green Gym session."


How: Growing produce, spending a day in the garden.

Why: Just five minutes gardening outside gives you an improved sense of self-esteem, but it's highest after a full day's gardening.

Children involved in after-school gardening clubs develop the confidence to overcome their fear of touching creatures such as worms or beetles, while women in particular felt an increase in self-esteem in working their allotment gardens and providing for their families by taking home fruit and vegetables. - Gardener's World

• October 21 is Garden Day. Now in its third year, Garden Day aims to unite South Africans by creating a day where everyone can celebrate and enjoy their gardens together. For more information, visit