The Healing Power of Gardening

 Eating lots of fruits and vegetables, regular exercise, and a solid sleep schedule all contribute to a healthy body and mind. But did you know that being outside in nature is good for you, too?

 There is a growing body of research that shows access to, and spending time in, nature has strong, positive health benefits for individuals and communities, especially in urban areas.

  1. Clean Air. Trees and other plants filter air pollutants making air cleaner to breathe and reducing contaminants that may lead to asthma or other respiratory health conditions.
  2. Increased Movement. Parks and community gardens encourage physical activity and movement which has many benefits (lower blood pressure, decreased stress levels, better blood sugar levels, and more!).
  3. Less Stress. Gardening has also been shown to calm anxiety and stress which, after a 16 months in a pandemic, could do wonders for our collective wellbeing.
  4. Quieter Streets. In urban areas, strips of plants and trees can buffer traffic noise, a factor that has been negatively related to heart health, increased stress, and disrupted sleep.
  5. Immune Boosts. According to several studies, spending time in nearby forests and other green space can improve immune system function.
  6. More Sunshine Vitamin. Inviting green spaces encourage people to spend time outside and increase their sun exposure. This can lead to increased Vitamin D levels which supports bone and heart health and may prevent certain types of cancers.
  7. Cooler Cities. Through their respiration and provision of shade, plants in green spaces can counteract the heat island effects of urban areas and cool cities. This makes them safer, more hospitable places, especially during warm seasons. 

Making a Green Impact

Through their ongoing efforts, the 2,700 active MSU Extension Master Gardener (EMG) volunteers improve access to these health-promoting, healing green spaces. They beautify rest stops on major roads, install community vegetable gardens, help maintain plantings in public spaces, and educate the general public about cultivating natural green spaces using science-based practices. 

The efforts of MSU EMGs were especially valuable this past year as many people turned to gardening for the first time and sought solace in the natural world. MSU EMGs were there to staff gardening hotlines, share virtual presentations, maintain important, highly trafficked public green spaces, and support food donation gardens that were servicing an increased need for fresh produce.

If you’d like to contribute to your community’s well-being through gardening and support the vital work of improving public access to green spaces, consider donating to the MSU Extension Master Gardener® program.

Kelly Wilson, RDN is a Registered Dietitian, “retired” farmer and former MSU Extension Junior Master Gardener. She also turned to gardening during the pandemic and discovered her love for sedges and unique hosta varieties.

Sarah Rautio is the MSU Extension Master Gardener® State Leader. She has previous experience working in the Health and Nutrition Institute of MSU Extension and developing education that connects gardening to health.