Gardening for Health

My wife and I had an interesting experience over this past holiday. We were lucky to be invited to the home of a famous restaurateur. While there we toured his personal and fully sustainable garden and farm. Two things struck me about this unique meeting. The first was the obvious joy that this man exhibited when it gives us a tour of his own private paradise. It reminded me, in the best possible way, the enthusiasm that the children display when they are genuinely excited about something important to them. The other thing that caught my attention was that his young children were well aware of the fate that would eventually happen to the chicken, pigs and other animals that live on their farm. They clearly understood that their food does not come from a package in the refrigerated section of a supermarket, but from the country itself. I understand that some people find objectionable the last few sentences. But I am convinced that if we decide to eat an omnivorous diet, we must come to terms with everything it includes. This family not only understands that position, she lives.

If I were only a philosophical issue that most directly affect the health choice would be this: Where and when practical, we must “return to our roots”. I’m not saying we are the comfort and convenience of modern technology to give. But I think it’s important to understand what we suffered in our relatively short history on this planet: the air we breathe, the food and water that nature provides and the sun that lights our days. I find it almost impossible to believe that technology can ever be the essence of being replaced by biological progress in the laboratories and test tubes. In our core, we are natural beings and that we need contact with nature in order to thrive.

One of the best examples of this philosophy in practice is a form of “treatment” known as horticultural therapy – the use of a garden environment to mental and physical well-being. Like many other natural therapies, gardening seems deceptively simple. There are, however, scientists found that exposure to fresh air, green surroundings, peaceful surroundings and the animals that inhabit deep can improve medical outcomes, reduce patient suffering and health costs. What’s more, some of the benefits of horticulture therapy also seems to extend to the “healers” that care for people in need. (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

Today’s column focuses on the two most vulnerable parts of the population – children and seniors. Note: The information provided here also apply to people who are somewhere between dawn and dusk of life. Before I start I want the idea that gardening and horticultural therapy are primarily useful because they encourage individuals to be more active drive. Not only I personally disagree with this stance, but more importantly, the results of a recent study from the Netherlands to refute this as well. The process that I refer to was published in June 2008 in the journal BMC Public Health. The conclusion of that investigation pretty much says it all, “the amount of physical activity in greener environment is not to explain the relationship between green and health”. (9)

What if I told you I was a supplement that is clinically proven to make kids want to eat more fruits and vegetables developed? Would you believe me? Probably not. I could not believe that claim. But the results of different studies do, in fact, show that exposure of children to a “garden-based education” is that seemingly impossible feat to achieve.

A scientific research studies and four in 2009 alone prove that the time spent in a garden not only raises vegetables, but it also changes the attitude of children towards fruit and vegetables. In addition, tends to promote more willing to try new foods. But the education that is received during such training goes far beyond expanding palate and improving nutrition. It is also an effective way to respect the environment, scientific principles and a unique set of social skills. In general, children who participate in these programs report “a high degree of pleasure in the intervention activities” and often express more interest in learning how to grow food they help prepare. Adoption of this kind of taste preferences and skills likely to deliver better health support for a life to come. A group of scientists from Auburn University recently remarked that “school gardens as part of nutrition education, fruit and vegetable knowledge and cause behavioral changes to increase among children” and that “teachers have school gardens to perform as a way to be positive eating habits affect a young age. ” (10,11,12,13)

It is unrealistic to expect most schools to the garden of educational programs set up in a time of rampant economic problems. But there are many private and public organizations which have horticultural therapy projects to areas outside the boundaries of school grounds. Information about these programs can be found online through nonprofit organizations like the American Horticultural Therapy Association. (14)

Expected benefits of GardeningSource: Edmonton Community Garden Network (a)

In the course of studying the present subject, I came across a relatively new therapeutic modality termed a “stroll garden” – a specially designed habitat, which provides seniors with special medical needs a safe way to spend time outdoors with nature by bring. These gardens are designed to provide a soothing environment that carefully “designed paths” which are enriched with pleasant, fragrant flowers and also to provide visual stimuli. To date there are three peer-reviewed, published studies evaluating the effects of this type of treatment setting. So far it seems stroll gardens can:

  • Reduce the need for antipsychotic medication, to reduce the frequency of falls and lower the rate of decline in morbidity in patients with dementia.
  • Let the degree of the staff reported agitation and inappropriate behaviors in dementia patients, while improving mood and quality of life.
  • Acting as a useful tool in assisting recovery after a stroke, according to a case study of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Salem, Virginia. (15,16,17)

I feel that it is important to note that these findings come from research facilities around the world. This does not seem to be geographically and culturally influenced in any way. An example is a pilot study conducted at the Department of Nursing at Woosuk University in Korea. In this process, 23 “institutionalized dementia patients’ suffering from anxiety and poor sleep 5 weeks took part in a gardening program. Post study assessments (Modified Cohen-Mansfield Agitation Inventory and Hasegawa Dementia Scale) found that this form of therapy ‘proved to be effective for sleep, agitation and cognition of people with dementia “. Another recent Australian experiment in particular highlighted the gardening as an effective way to improve loneliness in the elderly. This is particularly relevant because a large number of scientific studies have found that loneliness as a major contributor to poor health outcomes in this population. To tie everything together, was recently discovered that more time devoted to “green”, such as gardens, helps to promote a greater sense of social connectedness and discourages feelings of loneliness. (18,19,20,21,22)

I came across a quote from Thomas Jefferson that the current column summarizes more succinctly and eloquently than I ever could. “Though an old man, I am but a young gardener.” The more I explore the human condition in relation to medicine, the more I be
come convinced of the similarities between those of advanced age and just starting out in life. Outside that, the things that nourish us in sickness are generally the things that help keep us well in the first place. Along the way many of us to be derived from what the body, mind and soul really need. sooner we those things again and remember them in our lives, the more likely we are to invite back to good health.

Be good!