Garden to feel good: Study finds growing flowers, vegetables improves body image

LONDON — Looking for an extra mental boost this spring? If you’ve never tried planting a garden, you’re missing out on some surprising benefits beyond the home-grown salads. A study by researchers at Anglia Ruskin University finds that community or home gardening improves body image.

The study examined 84 gardeners in 12 urban gardening allotment sites in north London. The research team issued a series of questionnaires to the gardeners asking questions about body satisfaction and image. They found that people who garden in their community allotments have significantly higher levels of body appreciation, body pride, and appreciation for their body’s overall functionality than a control group of 81 non-gardeners recruited from the same area of London.

The findings also suggested that the more time people spent gardening, planting seeds, weeding, watering, harvesting, etc., the larger the improvement in body image when they left their allotment.

Previous research has proven that gardening can improve many aspects of psychological wellbeing and physical health. Swami has conducted similar studies in the past, and the latest one adds to that work, showing that exposure to natural environments, even in urban settings, helps promote positive body image. Now

“Positive body image is beneficial because it helps to foster psychological and physical resilience, which contributes to overall wellbeing,” says Viren Swami, a professor of social psychology at Anglia Ruskin, in a media release. “My previous research has shown the benefits of being in nature more generally, but increasing urbanisation has meant that many people now have less access to nature.”

Swami calls the findings from the study important because they show with specificity the significant benefits of spending time gardening in allotments, particularly for city dwellers. These individual patches of green space surrounded by urban environments provide a respite from the normal pressures and stress urban life can cause. Even in a small plot, one can still plant a variety of vegetables, herbs, or flowers. In addition to healthier meals, Swami says you’ll also come away with a healthier mind.

“Ensuring that opportunities for gardening are available to all people is, therefore, vital and may help to reduce the long-term cost burden on health services. One way to achieve this, beyond policies that ensure access to nature for all citizens, would be through the provision of dedicated and sustained community allotment plots,” says Swami.

The study was published in the journal Ecopsychology.

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