Image: iStock. By Carly Wood, University of Westminster.
More than half the planet’s population now live in cities, with limited access to the natural world. For Europe and Latin America, the figure is more than 70 per cent. Yet contact with nature has numerous benefits for both our physical and mental health.
Gardening is an opportunity for everyone to experience this kind of regular contact with nature, even if they live in built-up areas. For those without a garden of their own, allotments or community gardens are a highly valuable resource. Demand for allotments is increasing and in some locations waiting times have reached as much as 40 years.
But gardens shouldn’t just be a luxury for suburban dwellers. A growing body of evidence shows that they can make a significant contribution to our health and well-being, not just as a way to get some physical exercise but also to improve our mental state.
There is even some limited evidence that gardening might play a role in helping people to cope with serious health problems such as cancer.
(If you are stuck in an office all day, here are some great stretches you can do to release tension in your muscles. Post continues after video.)
This builds a strong case for governments and housebuilders to do more to provide gardens and allotments to as many people as possible.
Any type of gardening, whether it is in a home or allotment garden, is an opportunity for physical activity. Gardening is typically seen as moderate intensity exercise equivalent to playing doubles tennis or walking at a speed of 3.5mph, and so carries similar fitness benefits.
A survey of 269 people that my colleagues and I recently conducted into allotment gardening found a correlation between gardeners and a lower body mass index. We also found a greater percentage of non-gardeners were classified as overweight. (Post continues after gallery)
Gardening is also linked to better diets. Home and allotment gardens have long been important for domestic food production, but gardening can also encourage people to eat more healthily and act as an educational resource on nutritious food. In fact, children who take part in gardening and grow their own food have a greater preference for, and increased consumption of, fruit and vegetables.