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Gardening May Boost Moods As Much As Exercise

3 years, 6 months ago

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Posted on May 22, 2020, 4 p.m.

There is a recent trend to make cities more sustainable and livable by civic leaders and urban planners by investing into outdoor spaces and recreational activities such as walking and biking. Now research has identified the benefit of an activity that largely gets overlooked: home gardening. 

The Princeton researchers found that across the study population the levels of emotional well being or happiness reported by participants while gardening was similar to what was reported while biking, walking, or dining out according to the study published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning. Home gardening was the only activity out of the 15 for which women and those with low incomes reported higher emotional well being than men and medium high income participants respectively. 

“This has implications for equity in food action planning considering that people with lower incomes tend to have less access to healthy food options,” said corresponding author Anu Ramaswami, Princeton’s Sanjay Swani ’87 Professor of India Studies, professor of civil and environmental engineering and the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI). “Gardening could provide the health benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables, promote physical activity, and support emotional well-being, which can reinforce this healthy behavior.”

Benefits of gardening on happiness were similar across racial boundaries and between urban and suburban areas, says first author Graham Ambrose; whether people gardened alone or with others made no difference to the benefits, but those who kept vegetable gardens reported a higher level of average emotional well being than those with ornamental gardens. 

The study involved 370 participants in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area in which the cell phone app Daynamica was used to report emotional well being while the participants were engaged in any of the 15 daily activities. 

This study was developed by co-author Yingling Fan who is a professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Minnesota who also led a larger study as part of the Healthy Cities Network, funded by the National Science Foundation. 

“People know where community gardeners garden, but it is hard to know who is gardening at home, which our group uniquely identified,” Ambrose said. The authors found that 31% of the participants engaged in home gardening for about 90 minutes a week compared to 10% who engaged in biking for 30 minutes a week, and 85% who walked for one hour and 40 minutes each week. 

“Many more people garden than we think and it appears that it associates with higher levels of happiness similar to walking and biking,” Ramaswami said. “In the movement to make cities more livable, gardening might be a big part of improving quality-of-life.”

Home gardening was found to be among the top 5 activities in terms of how meaningful an activity felt to the participants while they were engaging in it. 

“The high levels of meaningfulness that respondents reported while gardening might be associated with producing one’s own food,” Ambrose said. “The boost to emotional well-being is comparable to other leisure activities that currently get the lion’s share of infrastructure investment. These findings suggest that, when choosing future well-being projects to fund, we should pay just as much attention to household gardening.”

A few other cities have conducted similar pilot house gardening projects that have also yielded promising results such as the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens Project in Pittsburg that provided participant with the materials and training to start a home garden in which 3 years after the project began 70% of the participants were still actively gardening. 

The research team plans to replicate this work among community gardeners to compare the emotional benefits of household gardens vs community gardens; these results may be important to food action planning in cities with ongoing projects for community members and organizations to develop a food action plan. 

“Princeton researchers found that gardening at home had a similar effect on people’s emotional well-being (or happiness) as biking, walking or dining out. The benefits of home gardening were similar across racial boundaries and between urban and suburban residents, and it was the only activity out of the 15 studied for which women and people with low incomes reported the highest emotional well-being. The results suggest that household gardens could be key to providing food security in urban areas and making cities more sustainable and livable,” reads an entry on the Princeton Environmental Institute website. 

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