Digging Into the Health Benefits of Gardening

UT Health Austin clinicians delve into a range of benefits associated with gardening

Reviewed by: Sylvia Deily, DC, Cert MDT, and Emmy Feeler, MSN, APRN, FNP-C
Written by: Kaylee Fang

A man kneeling to help his son use a watering can on leafy plants.

Embracing the art of gardening brings forth a myriad of benefits for overall health and well-being. From access to nutrient-rich produce and increased physical activity to stimulation of the brain and improved cognitive function, a regular dose of gardening does wonders for both the body and mind.

Whether you’re tending to a small plot or a flourishing garden, the act of nurturing plants is tied to a host of benefits that extend far beyond the confines of your backyard. Sylvia Deily, DC, Cert MDT, a chiropractor in UT Health Austin’s Back and Neck Pain Center within the Musculoskeletal Institute, and Emmy Feeler, MSN, APRN, FNP-C, a family nurse practitioner in UT Health Austin’s Walk-In Clinic, delve into a range of health benefits associated with gardening.

Raised Vitamin D Levels

Vitamin D is a vital component for various aspects of health and well-being, including bone health, immune system support, muscle functions, regulation of gene expressions, pregnancy and fetal development, and hormonal health. Vitamin D has also been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases and chronic diseases, such as diabetes, certain cancers, and autoimmune conditions.

“While some vitamin D can be obtained through dietary sources, such as fatty fish, egg yolks, fortified foods, and supplements, exposure to sunlight remains the most natural and efficient way for the body to synthesize vitamin,” says Feeler. “Being outdoors exposes the body to sunlight, and gardening is an excellent way to ensure you’re getting enough vitamin D throughout the day.”

“Vitamin D also plays a crucial role in facilitating the absorption of calcium,” adds Deily. “Calcium is essential for building and maintaining strong bones and supporting proper muscle and nerve function.”

Learn more about maintaining your bone health.

<br>Increased Movement

Gardening encourages a combination of aerobic exercise, strength training, and flexibility, which can benefit cardiovascular health, muscle strength, joint mobility, and overall physical well-being. “You perform squats and lunges while weeding,” explains Deily. “Digging, raking, shoveling, and transporting bags of mulch and other supplies work various trunk, upper, and lower body muscles.”

“As you’re minimizing the time you spend sitting and introducing movement to your muscles and joints, if you aren’t used to these types of activities, you will likely feel a bit sore after a busy day gardening,” warns Deily. “Gardening can help keep you agile and assist with maintaining strength and function.

Learn more about how you can optimize your gardening experience.

<br>Balanced Diet

Growing your own produce encourages healthy eating habits, which supports a more balanced and nutritious diet. “Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables that offer a high concentration of vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients,” advises Feeler. “Planting what’s in season can also help increase the nutrient density and maximize nutritional benefits.”

“Include different plant and vegetable colors, such as greens, reds, oranges, and purples, as each color signifies unique nutrients and antioxidants,” adds Feeler. “Peppers contain anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce heart disease, tomatoes are high in vitamin C and potassium, spinach can help boost your immune system, and broccoli helps protect your body’s cells from damage.”

Learn more about finding a healthy balance between diet and exercise.

<br>Strengthened Immune System

In addition to maintaining a balanced diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and proper hygiene practices, gardening can help support overall immune function. “Working in the soil exposes you to beneficial microbes, which can have positive effects on the immune system,” shares Feeler.

“You also have more control over how your produce is grown, resulting in less herbicide and pesticide use, which helps lower any potentially associated health risks,” continues Feeler. “Additionally, you are more likely to consume the fresh produce you grow that is free from additives, preservatives, or other chemicals commonly found in processed or canned foods.”

Learn more about strengthening your immune system.

<br>Brain Stimulation

Gardening involves planning, problem-solving, and decision-making, all of which stimulate the brain and promote cognitive function. Being in a natural environment has also been linked to enhanced cognitive performance, including improved attention and focus, increased creativity and problem-solving skills, and improved memory.

“Oxygen is essential for maintaining healthy blood flow in the brain, which is vital for brain function and cognitive processes,” explains Feeler. “Breathing in the fresh air while out in nature can also help your respiratory system and provide you with greater energy and vitality.”

Learn more about the aging brain.

<br>Improved Mood

Interacting with nature through gardening can have a significant impact on mood. “Gardening allows you to connect with the natural world, which has been shown to reduce stress, regulate emotions, and promote feelings of well-being,” says Feeler. “Spending time outdoors, especially during sunny days, can lead to increased levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter known as the ‘happy chemical.’ This helps combats anxiety and depression as well as maintain a balanced emotional state.”

“Gardening also offers you an opportunity to disconnect from daily pressures and practice mindfulness,” adds Feeler. “Paying attention to your senses, taking deep breaths of fresh air, processing your thoughts and emotions, and enjoying the present moment, can not only improve your mood, but also help lower your blood pressure, boost your immune system, and decrease your cortisol levels.

Learn more about getting back into the garden.

<br>Enhanced Mental and Emotional Well-Being

Being a part of a gardening community or gardening with family or friends can foster social interactions and strengthen social bonds, which are crucial for mental and emotional well-being. “Participating in community gardens or joining gardening organizations allows for social connections and support and a promotes a sense of belonging and pride,” shares Feeler. “It also helps reduce loneliness and increase mental stimulation by encouraging skill-sharing and learning.”

Discover new gardening techniques and share gardening tips with others through the following local resources and groups:

Whether you tend to a small patch in a raised bed or participate in a community garden, embrace the process of tending to plants, witnessing their growth, and being a part of the natural world around you. Don’t fret if everything doesn’t go according to plan. Embrace setbacks as opportunities for growth and learning, while savoring the lessons learned from each season’s successes.

About UT Health Austin

UT Health Austin is the clinical practice of the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin. We collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to provide patients with an unparalleled quality of care. Our experienced healthcare professionals deliver personalized, whole-person care of uncompromising quality and treat each patient as an individual with unique circumstances, priorities, and beliefs. Working directly with you, your care team creates an individualized care plan to help you reach the goals that matter most to you — in the care room and beyond. For more information, call us at 1-833-UT-CARES or request an appointment here.