Gardening as an Anti-depressant
By: Brent and Becky
Most of us love gardening because it makes us happy. There’s so much satisfaction and joy to be found in growing plants, from planting, to the first tiny shoots of green in spring and onwards. The dirt in our hands is such a contrast to so much in our digital lives. As it turns out, the glow you feel when you have fresh soil in your hands isn’t strictly psychological. Chemical interactions within our bodies help to explain the joy of gardening.
A 2007 study from the University of Bristol explored the role of a bacteria called Mycobacterium Vaccae. In the study, these soil-borne bacteria altered the brain chemistry of mice in the same way that antidepressants do. The bacteria activates the neurons in the brain that are responsible for releasing serotonin - the hormone that makes us feel happy.
What is exciting about M. vaccae, is they are already present in our gardens! Like any other ecosystem, the healthier your soil is, the more likely it is to be full of this helpful bacteria.
The benefit from this bacteria when it enters your system is pure science. Contact with the soil is sure to give you a healthy dose of these serotonin boosters, but you aren’t limited to getting your hands dirty. Even a deep breath of fresh air out in nature is enough to give your system a boost. The air you breathe as you churn up your soil or walk around in nature is enough to improve your mood and reduce anxiety.
Serotonin is not only an important chemical in your brain in relation to mood, but also has an important role in our ability to focus and learn. A 2010 study out of New York explored this relationship. They found that mice exposed to M. vaccae were able to navigate a maze twice as quickly as their bacteria-free counterparts.
The brains of mice may be simpler than ours, but they work on the same principles. Smarter mice show that mammals are able to learn better when they have the help of these soil-borne bacteria. Working in the garden can improve your mood, but it also could help improve your mental performance.
In Your Own Garden
Many of us have had an inkling about the mental and emotional benefits of our gardens, but have relied on anecdotes to prove it. Science is on our side and has started proving what we have always suspected. Most of us will continue our love of gardening for the sake of gardening - but it's a breath of fresh air to know how playing in the dirt can improve the our well-being, as well as our families.
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