Digging the ground, weeding and planting while getting a little dirt under your fingernails is a small price to pay for the benefits of gardening.

Grubbing around in the garden isn’t just about making your home look good (although a little curb appeal certainly never hurts). Scientific research - and there’s plenty out there – suggests that nurturing plants can also do wonders for your own welfare. The physical exercise alone can contribute towards a healthy weight and helps keep blood pressure levels in check, and interacting with your flora could also improve your mood and mental health.

Gardening burns calories

The good news is that for those who already spend hours planting, weeding and growing stuff, gardening is considered moderate-intensity exercise, and apparently you can burn about 330 calories doing one hour of light gardening and pottering back and forth in your garden — more than walking at a moderate pace for the same amount of time, but I would add that an hour of even moderate gardening in the heat of summer might be too much, so shorten your time out there, or aim for the cooler hours of the day.

It can lower your blood pressure

Just 30 minutes of moderate-level physical activity most days of the week might help prevent and control high blood pressure, and in fact, The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in the US recommends gardening or sweeping for 30-45 minutes as a good example.

It’s good for your bones

When you’re outdoors your skin is exposed to the sun, which prompts your body to make vitamin D. This vitamin — also found in most fish and fortified foods such as milk — helps your body absorb calcium, a mineral essential for bone formation. But you should still apply sunscreen if you’re planning on spending more than a few minutes in the sun to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. So be warned - unprotected exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause damage to the skin, eyes and immune system, and is a major cause of skin cancer. According to Cancer Research UK, the vast majority of melanomas, the most serious type of skin cancer, are caused by the sun.

Growing your own food makes for healthier eating

Besides the physical exercise you’ll get tending to a garden, a productive plot containing home-grown produce can also promote a better diet by supplying absolutely fresh veggies. The World Health Organisation and Food and Agriculture of the United Nations recommends adults to consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, which should exclude starchy vegetables, so growing a few of your own could help you reach that target. And there’s a theory that getting children involved with ‘growing their own’ will help them experiment with veggies they might not normally try.

Gardening can relieve stress

Gardening is also positively related to a reduction in depression and anxiety, with planting and flower arranging sometimes being used as a type of rehabilitation for people recovering from injuries, strokes, surgeries, etc. Not only does it give people control over a situation where they might feel helpless, it can also teach them a new skill that can restore confidence. Growing something green, something real, something alive, is a hopeful thing to do.

Gardening can be a time of peace, relaxation, and tranquillity. On a basic level, it can allow us the quiet time that might be needed in a life possibly filled with technology and demanding schedules. The benefits of meditation while gardening vary from one person to another, but many agree that meditative gardening can be quite an enlightening experience, allowing growers to explore the soil as well as their inner selves.

Calm and Green

It is said that nature has a huge impact on health and wellness, and we know that people’s cortisol levels go down in a calm, green environment.

So roll up your sleeves and get digging, planting, and weeding this spring and summer. Both you and your plants will benefit in the long run.


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan