Tag Archive: health


Guest Post by Maria Cannon, from Dallas, Texas, who believes we’re never too young to dedicate ourselves to a hobby. Her hobbies–like gardening–played a major role in maintaining her physical and mental health.

Gardening is a great way to spend time outdoors, get more fresh food into your diet, and transform your yard into something beautiful. But there’s one big benefit of starting a backyard garden that doesn’t get as much attention: It’s great for your mental health. Don’t believe us? Here are seven incredible things a garden can do for your mental wellbeing.

1. It Relieves Stress

A 2010 study found that 30 minutes of gardening reduced levels of the hormone cortisol, too much of which is linked to chronic stress, poor memory function, and weakened immune systems, among other health problems. Gardening outside not only had a greater effect on participants’ cortisol levels than 30 minutes of leisure reading, but the effects lasted long after leaving the garden.

2. It Eases Mental Fatigue

When your to-do list has you feeling mentally exhausted, a stroll through the garden might be the remedy you need. Time in nature has been shown to ease the mental fatigue that leaves you irritable, inattentive, and forgetful. A few minutes spent weeding or cutting flower blooms lightens the demand on your mind — a welcome break from busy work and home environments where you must tend to several things at once. After a period of quiet contemplation, you’ll enjoy a less stressed, more focused mind.

3. It Combats Depression and Anxiety

There’s a reason horticultural therapy is quickly gaining popularity. Gardening is becoming respected as an effective way to combat mood disorders like depression and anxiety. Time spent outdoors is linked to better emotional regulation and less ruminating, or dwelling on negative thoughts and feelings.Gardening also helps you meet the weekly recommended amount of moderate physical activity, another important tool in managing mood disorders.

4. It Helps Attention Deficits

Just 20 minutes spent in nature can improve concentration in children with ADHD, according to research from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In fact, a short nature work improved children’s performance on concentration tests as well as or better than ADHD medication. And the concentration benefits of nature aren’t limited to children with ADHD: Adults with ADHD see improvements in concentration and impulse control after time outdoors, too.

5. It Strengthens Memory

That 20 minutes of nature can improve your short-term memory, too. Researchers at the University of Michigan found people perform 20 percent better on memory tests after spending time in natural setting over an urban one. This science has been applied to memory care facilities serving patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, where you can often find memory gardens designed to benefit sufferers’ memory function, cognitive ability, and stress levels.

6. It Improves Self-Esteem

Gardening can also improve your self-esteem — an important benefit for people with depression struggling to love themselves. Just one session in the garden has been shown to measurably improve self-esteem, with participants reporting less tension and better self-perception after tending to a garden.

7. It Makes You Feel Alive

At this point, it may sound like gardening is a miracle drug. And it just might be: One of the most stunning findings about gardening and mental health is that gardening increases vitality. People report feeling more energized, inspired, and motivated after spending time in nature, but those same benefits were lacking for activities that don’t involve green space.

 With all these amazing benefits, there’s no reason not to make gardening part of your life. After all, what’s more important than protecting your mental health? For people currently experiencing mental illness, gardening can lessen symptoms and serve as a healthy coping strategy. Not only can it help sufferers fight their illness, but it serves as a positive, productive alternative to unhealthy coping mechanisms like drug or alcohol abuse. For people without a history of mental illness, gardening is a wonderful way to preserve and improve your mental well-being for the long-term. And who doesn’t want that?

Top image via Unsplash

Author: Maria (HobbyJr.org)

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soil fungusToday is ‘Anti Biotics Awareness Day’ in the UK (I think this extends to the whole week in north America). Last night I attended a fascinating series of talks about work being done in the Norwich Research Park (this includes the University of East Anglia, John Innes Centre, Institute of Food Research and Norfolk and Norwich Hospital) to search for ways to expand the options for combatting infectious diseases. 

The Problem

‘Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections in humans. Even though these antibiotics are very powerful, some pathogenic bacteria have evolved resistance to all antibiotics currently available. There is an urgent need to find new ways to combat these drug resistant bacteria.’

268044-medicinesSolutions?

Most of the antibiotics we currently use are made by a group of benign soil bacteria called actinomycetes. Scientists are now searching environments not previously investigated to find new actinomycetes which might produce new antibiotics; for example deep oceans, desert, rainforests and insects. They are also manipulating actinomycetes bacteria to produce new antibiotics.

This is the first strand of work I heard about last night. It also featured a fascinating look at leaf cutter ants. You’ve probably seen these minute creatures on nature documentaries. They cut pieces of leaf from nearby plants and take these back to their nest. But they don’t eat the leaves, well not directly anyway. Instead they feed them to a fungus which produces the food they use. A sort of ‘agriculture’ that has been going on for 50 million years! It’s this fungus that scientists are studying, and specifically the antibiotics it produces, to see if they could be useful against human diseases.

The second strand of work concerns improving the diagnosis and use of antibiotics. Up to now we’ve been rather profligate with our use of antibiotics, including in animal husbandry (where they encourage weight gain) and agriculture.

This widespread use of antibiotics has led to the crisis we now face- many bacteria developing resistance to ‘broad spectrum’ (a cocktail) of antibiotics and a lack of will to develop new antibiotics as the investment and risk are judged to be too high in relation to the potential returns by pharmaceutical companies. The technology available for analysing bacterial infections is advancing – the speed is increasing and the costs reducing-  so that it is increasingly likely that a more precise diagnosis of infections can be made and a more targeted approach to using antibiotics can follow. This will both increase the effectiveness of their use and reduce the side effects- of killing off a lot of other (beneficial) bacteria and inducing the development of resistant pathogens.

penicillium_coloniesFinally,  I heard about work being done to harness the inherent bacteriological power of the human body.

Not only are humans walking factories of millions of bacteria, but it turns out that different parts of the body carry different bacteriological ‘eco systems’ of their own. The work to date has revealed the benefit of human breast milk in child development (as well as containing nutrients it transfers a range of bacteria from the mother which help to develop the child’s own bacterial systems). This has included giving ‘pro biotic’ supplements to babies born prematurely to help them make up the deficit they have on full term babies and so helping to reduce infections and premature mortality.

Work is also being done on the human gut and experiments with some very sick patients have shown how powerful an infusion of new bacteria can be in combatting diseases; this infusion takes the form of a ‘faecal transplant’- literally transfusing a healthy person’s gut bacteria to a sick person via their faeces (of course converted into a suitable form!).

On this special day, it’s encouraging to see the work in hand by a wide range of brilliant people (who happen to be on my doorstep) to try to extend our ability to fight infectious diseases. Part of the answer lies in discovering and teasing out new anti biotics from a wider range of soils and other sites, but it seems that better targetting of antibiotics and harnessing the body’s own ‘bacteria factory’ have an important part to play.

To finish, here’s a little quiz about leaf cutter ants…

Further information:

Antibiotic Hunters

BBC News Report

John Innes Ant Cam- live

Old School Gardener

 

‘Over the last 3 years we have reached over 2000 young people and families across woodland days, teenage camp, youth training and leadership programmes, forest schools and family days. Our flagship projects, Call of the Wild and Earthwise, were funded under Natural England’s Access to Nature Grant and MIND’s Ecominds Grant and raised over £160,000 towards creating outdoor opportunities for the most disadvantaged groups in our society. The results show that this kind of work leads to better health and wellbeing, more opportunities, a greater sense of community and respect.’
For more information visit http://www.circleofliferediscovery.com

sowing seeds The case for gardening in schools has perhaps never been stronger – it encourages exercise and healthy eating and helps to ensure that children ‘reconnect with nature’ – as discussed in the initial post on school gardening.

Today, in the first of a series of posts on the practical steps to creating a successful School Garden, I’m looking at how to get your project up and running.

Where do you start? How do you build up the momentum that’ll be needed to turn your dreams into  reality? How can you get the resources you need to get it off the ground? Here are 7 steps to help get your school gardening project off the starting blocks.

1. Do your homework- check out the internet for advice and ideas about school garden learning and explore other school gardens in your area. This research will help you to firm up your ideas and think about how you might present them. Talk to those involved in the school gardens you visit – their advice and experience is priceless. And they might even offer to help you get started!

2. Make the Case – so how do you get the key people on your side? If you’re a volunteer, float your idea with one or more teachers who you think might be sympathetic and explore the idea a bit further (if you’re a teacher speak with your colleagues and sound out some parents). Once you’ve firmed up your initial thoughts, it’s time to get the Head teacher on board. You need to have a clear outline of what the project is going to achieve and how it could benefit the school’s approach to learning in general (including curriculum links if possible) and ‘learning outside the classroom’ in particular – so think ‘outdoor classroom’ and use this key phrase in your plans. Your outline should ideally include a suggested location for the garden, rough design,timescale and how the garden will be established and looked after. It might also be an idea to say how you think progress will be monitored and reported. If you are able to convice a number of teachers, governors, parents and friends of the School, so much the better.

Hedge planting- put some natural boundaries around your garden with community effort!

Hedge planting- put some natural boundaries around your garden with community effort!

3. Build a team – you  will not create the garden alone, even less ensure its effective ongoing use. You need to build a team around the project which can do the many things needed. A committee/ steering group/ project team of some sort needs to be set up and at this stage. It will be important to get all the key interests in the project involved; later on your committee structure might be slimmed down as individual roles start to pan out and inevitably some people lose interest. So who should you target? Keep an eye out for parents who can bring particular skills, assets (mini diggers!) or contacts to the project  – these might be builders, gardeners, landscapers, forestry workers, publicists or funding bid writers and so on. Establishing a broad and varied support base at this stage will set the project on a positive course. Hold formal meetings to develop your project but also use the web to communicate. Don’t forget to ask the Head, teachers and governors to be on the committee – their involvement at this stage is important, but may reduce once the project is flying!

4. Think ahead – as the project develops it will become clear what the real goals will be and the main lines of action you’ll need to take to achieve these. Being clear, concise and friendly will help to communicate the project effectively. At the same time, be patient – it’s natural to want to launch right into construction works, but it will take time for your project to evolve and the learning opportunities to be firmed up, which will in turn have a bearing on your design, layout, routine etc. So it’s important to have detailed discussions with the teachers who will make use of their ‘outdoor classroom’. This discussion may take anything from a few months to a year.

picture- RHS

picture- RHS

5. ‘Quick wins’ to promote your cause – whilst it will take time to clarify your overall objectives and start to firm up your design, you can keep up the momentum and start to generate wider interest. Plan activities which will test out some ideas and generate interest ; e.g. can you start to grow things in containers around the school and get children involved in cultivating flowers or food in these? A little project starting with seed sowing in the classroom and eventually seeing mature plants placed outside will demonstrate what can be achieved and get the children on board.

6. Check possible barriers to progress and get permissions – check out whether your outline design has implications for the school’s utilities or the way it operates,  and if you need them get permissions in principle before going much further with your design work. For example, a reliable source of water nearby is an important if not vital consideration – will this be possible from existing outside taps/ rainwater harvesting or do you need to get another connection installed? Will this be acceptable to the school?

7. Secure the start-up resources – once you have a clear, albeit outline, view of your project and the design of the garden, it’s time to firm up what resources you’ll need to get the project established and get commitments for these. Some of these can be ‘promises’ of help from well skilled/equipped parents or friends of the school. But you’ll probably need some start up cash – to purchase materials, tools, seed etc.  Sources internal to the school can be approached – the school budget if possible, but more likely a Parents/ Friends Association. Then you can explore outside sources including local charities as well as national programmes like the Big Lottery.

Once you have a strong team around you, a clear plan with the start up resources you need and a growing awareness and support from the school and wider community, it’s time to get serious! In the next post on School Gardening I share some tips about planning and designing your new space for growing children!

Source: ‘How to grow a School Garden- a Complete Guide for Parents and Teachers’- Arden Bucklin-Sporer and Rachel Kathleen Pringle, Timber Press Books 2010

Useful websites:

Garden Organic support for Schools

RHS Campaign for School Gardening

RHS young gardener of the year 2013

Learning outside the classroom- manifesto

Learning through landscapes

Setting up and running a school garden- UN Food and Agriculture organisation

Morrisons ‘Let’s Grow’

Cawston Primary School Garden following work by a 'Garden Gang' event last Saturday

Cawston Primary School Garden following work by a ‘Garden Gang’ event last Saturday

Old School Gardener

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