Gardening as an Anti-Depressant
There are a lot of inarguable benefits to gardening that attract us to it. We love having a beautiful, thriving space in our backyard, we like having fresh food that we trust on our tables, and our families enjoy the benefits of a place to relax and play all summer. Nurturing life from simple dirt in our own homes is life-affirming and a great getaway from our sometimes hectic, screen-bound lives. Gardening makes a lot of us happy. It turns out that the glow we get from getting our hands into some fresh soil isn’t just psychological, it could come down to chemistry, too.
There’s some evidence to prove that you do, in fact, feel better when you’re digging around in your garden. In 2007, a study from the University of Bristol first started to look into a common soil-borne bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae. This bacteria is harmless and they found that when they
exposed mice to it, it had some promising effects that showed a reduction in anxiety. This bacteria helps to stimulate the production of more serotonin in the brain, which is commonly known as the “happy hormone.”
While the brain and brain chemistry are incredibly complicated, and we are only just beginning to understand it, we do know that serotonin is closely connected to our mood, appetite, and memory, among other things. Having more in our system usually means feeling better, less anxious, and having better memory function – just like these mice did in the tests performed during the study! Even if mice are a bit of a far cry from humans, it shows a lot how these natural bacteria can be such a helpful influence on the brains of mammals.
Helpful Bacteria Right at Home
You get M. vaccae bacteria in your body the same way as any other bacteria. Our lives are full of these microscopic organisms that we can’t even see, and it’s reassuring to know that many of them making their way inside are actually helpful. Just having these bacteria on your hands from working with
soil or even breathing in the fresh air of nature can introduce them to your bloodstream, where they get to work.
Gardening is one of the more direct ways to get introduced to M. vaccae regularly because of how involved you get with your own soil, but you can find these helpers in nature, too. A walk in the woods or being outside is enough to inhale them. There’s some science behind how much going for a walk or simply being outside improves your mood and reduce anxiety.
Healthy Soil, Healthy Home
Of course, the healthier your soil is, the healthier it will be for you. Soil is a living ecosystem that is incredibly complicated. Try to cut back on harsh, synthetic fertilizers and other chemicals in favor of some gentler, natural solutions, and you’ll be rewarded with a healthier garden that grows better, while rewarding you with better mood-boosting bacteria.
The benefits of these bacteria certainly aren’t limited to adults that need the stress release. Kids reap lots of benefits from spending time in the garden. They love to explore, they love the wonder of tasting the food that they’ve helped to grow, and they also benefit quite a bit from the exposure to a world of bacteria and dirt.
The benefits of M. vaccae are still being looked into and refined, but we do know that they are very helpful in boosting memory and the ability to learn. We’ve also found over the years that exposing our kids to dirt and germs in a healthy way is important to boost their developing immune systems. Turns out, a healthy garden reaps even healthier benefits for our kids!
It doesn’t come as too much of a surprise to some avid gardeners that a healthy garden keeps them healthy in return. In fact, the more we learn about our gardens, the more we learn about their benefits for us and our families. More than just a beautiful backyard addition, gardening makes us not only healthier, but happier, too!