Why We've Taken to Gardening This Year
All the world over, people are practicing social distancing and sheltering at home in an effort to stay healthy. Watching the entire planet come together in solidarity to protect society’s most vulnerable members is amazing to behold, but there’s no denying that having to stay at home when we’re used to being out and about in this beautiful world of ours is just plain hard.
The exceptionally good news is that if you look closely enough, you can find some silver linings to spending all these extra hours at home and, like many others around the globe, at the top of our list is having the time to focus on one of our most beloved pastimes...gardening!
As we head into spring, it’s the perfect opportunity to spend time outdoors, get a little dirty, and discover all that gardening has to offer for your mind, body, and soul.
It’s Time for a Victory…
...garden, that is! Victory gardens first emerged during World War I, when much of the mass-produced food from farmers was being sent overseas to support the war effort. In order to ease the pressure on the public food supply, people all over the world were encouraged to use whatever available land they had access to (like parks, yards, rooftops, and vacant lots) to grow their own vegetables.
With the introduction of food rationing during World War II, Americans once again joined the effort by planting 20 million victory gardens that produced more than 40% of all the fresh vegetables consumed in the United States. Not only were people better able to feed themselves and their families, but the resulting self-sufficiency and sense of contribution were real morale boosters during a time when people felt uncertain, out of control, and unsure of what the future held.
It’s a very different kind of battle we’re in now, but the central tenets are the same. With strained resources and limited access to grocery stores—and many empty shelves when we are able to get there—creating our very own victory gardens may just be the key to finding our own unique joy and calm amidst the storm.
And the best part is that the benefits of gardening go way beyond just providing us with a steady supply of delicious, nutritious food. Here’s why gardening is one of the best things you can do to keep living your healthiest days...no matter what challenge you’re facing.1. It’s really good for your microbiome
As you can probably guess, gut health is always top of mind when we’re looking for activities that support our well-being—and thankfully, gardening has all the components of a gut health-supporting superstar.
You see, soil is absolutely brimming with helpful microbes, and is one of the best mediums for encouraging that ever-important diversity in our microbiome. This diversity, in turn, supports our balanced immune function so the body can respond appropriately to all of life’s challenges.1 In fact, scientists theorize that the biodiversity of a person’s living environment has a direct effect on health via the microbiome—and that loss of this diversity is what leads to immune system dysregulation.2
How does gardening help? When you dig in the dirt, microbes in the soil colonize your skin and make their way into your gut, where they can get to work with all your other microbes supporting your immune system. Recent research also indicates that exposure to biodiverse soil (and the microbes that dwell there) can ease anxiety and stress, something that we could all use a little of right now!3
So, don’t be afraid to dig in and get dirty whenever you can...every little bit helps!2. It’s (usually) outdoors
Although we can garden indoors (think windowsill microgreens and countertop herb pots), one of the biggest benefits of gardening is getting outdoors in the fresh air. Not only does it feel great to have some outside time when we’ve been cooped up in our homes, but there are actually some very real health benefits to being out in the environment.
In the 1960s, scientists discovered that outdoor air is lethal to many airborne inhospitable microbes, and they used the term “open air factor” (OAF) to describe the germicidal effects of outside air.4 More recent research has found that sunlight also provides some protection from pathogens, and works to energize specific immune cells (called T-cells) that fight off the bad guys.5,6 Not to mention that it feels absolutely glorious to be out in the sun after a long winter!
If you can’t safely get outside due to local restrictions, researchers say opening windows to bring outdoor air in can mimic OAF, so try bringing your garden indoors near a bright, sunny door or window and by all means, let the beautiful spring breeze in!3. It keeps you active
Without traditional gym or yoga studio workouts to fill up our days, many of us have either had to switch to online versions of our favorite exercise programs or have begun new walking and running regimens when (and where) we can find enough wide open space outside.
However, the location limitations of sheltering in place require us to get even more creative in our quest to stay active, and we’ve found that gardening more than fits the bill when it comes to moderate exercise. If you think about it, gardening uses all the major muscle groups—many of them all at the same time—and burns a significant amount of calories. For example, digging and spading, which utilizes the upper body, back, and legs, burns around 150 calories every 30 minutes for women, and 197 calories for men. Even weeding for half an hour burns an estimated 138 or 181 calories for women and men.7
Not bad for something that’s so fun to do! The cherry on top? Just 30 minutes of exercise a day five days a week can also boost your immunity, so spending time in your garden not only keeps you active, it helps keep your immune system firing on all cylinders.4. It eases stress and boosts your mood
As much as we try to stay positive and make the most out of this remarkably unprecedented time, everyone is bound to experience stressful moments. Whether it’s the loss of social connections, the inability to hug extended family members, or just sadness for the immeasurable losses that those across the world are experiencing, we need to be able to honor our feelings in the moment...and then move through them.
Thankfully, this is where gardening really shines. We already know that spending time outdoors and in nature is important for our overall health and emotional well-being (did you know that doctors in Scotland can quite literally prescribe “nature” for their ailing patients?) but it turns out that gardening on its own can improve mood.
In one interesting study, people were assigned to either read or garden after a stressful task. Cortisol levels lowered in both groups, but the gardeners experienced more significant decreases and a fully restored positive mood after spending some time in the garden, while the readers reported a deteriorating mood.8
As the inevitable worry and stress creep in and emotions ebb and flow as we all try to find our new normals, take heart in knowing that gardening can be your pick-me-up whenever the need arises.5. It gives you hope
The simple task of planting seeds and watering them with small acts of love and attention every single day fosters patience and connects us with nature’s rhythms while giving us a sense of intention, hope, and control that we can carry into the other aspects of our lives.
What’s more, gardening gives us something positive to focus on and take part in (how exciting is the first sprout and the first harvest?) when things around us feel hard or unsettled. None of us knows what tomorrow will bring, but gardening can be something you can count on—your joyous reprieve from all the day-to-day unknowns.
Ready to Get Started?
When it comes to starting your very own victory garden, the first step is choosing plants you’ll enjoy cultivating so you’ll feel motivated every step of the way. Some easy-to-grow varieties include:
- Vegetables: Lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers
- Annuals: Sunflowers, marigolds, calendula, zinnias
- Perennials: Pansies, Russian sage, black-eyed susans, purple coneflowers
Make sure to find a garden spot with enough sun to nourish your particular plants, prepare your soil, and get your plants settled in. You’ll want to wait to plant outdoors until the danger of frost has passed, which is often around Mother’s Day (May 10) for many areas that regularly experience winter cold and snow.
Spring’s sunshine will soon be here to stay and in no time you’ll be enjoying your bounty—all while supporting your physical, emotional, and mental health from the inside out. Now, that is a true victory garden, indeed!
1. Ottman, N., Ruokolainen, L., Suomalainen, A., Sinkko, H., Karisola, P., Lehtimäki, J., … Fyhrquist, N. (2019). Soil exposure modifies the gut microbiota and supports immune tolerance in a mouse model. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 143(3). doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2018.06.024
2. Hertzen, L. V., Hanski, I., & Haahtela, T. (2011). Natural immunity. EMBO Reports, 12(11), 1089–1093. doi: 10.1038/embor.2011.195
3. Liddicoat, C., Sydnor, H., Cando-Dumancela, C., Dresken, R., Liu, J., Gellie, N. J., … Breed, M. F. (2020). Naturally-diverse airborne environmental microbial exposures modulate the gut microbiome and may provide anxiolytic benefits in mice. Science of The Total Environment, 701, 134684. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.134684
4. Hobday, R. (2019). The open-air factor and infection control. Journal of Hospital Infection, 103(1). doi: 10.1016/j.jhin.2019.04.003
5. Schuit, M., Gardner, S., Wood, S., Bower, K., Williams, G., Freeburger, D., & Dabisch, P. (2019). The Influence of Simulated Sunlight on the Inactivation of Influenza Virus in Aerosols. The Journal of Infectious Diseases, 221(3), 372–378. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jiz582
6. Phan, T. X., Jaruga, B., Pingle, S. C., Bandyopadhyay, B. C., & Ahern, G. P. (2016). Intrinsic Photosensitivity Enhances Motility of T Lymphocytes. Scientific Reports, 6(1). doi: 10.1038/srep39479
7. Rindels, Sherry. (1993, November 10). Gardening for Exercise. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/1993/11-10-1993/exer.html
8. Berg, Agnes E. Van Den, and Mariëtte H.g. Custers. “Gardening Promotes Neuroendocrine and Affective Restoration from Stress.” Journal of Health Psychology, vol. 16, no. 1, Mar. 2010, pp. 3–11., doi:10.1177/1359105310365577.
Emily Courtney is a Writer and Editor at Hyperbiotics and mom to two fun and active boys. Emily is passionate about natural wellness and helping others learn about the power of probiotics for vibrant health! For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.