Green space and gardens are good for our health

July 28th 2016

Green space and gardens are good for our healthA report produced by the Kings Fund on behalf of the National Gardens Scheme has found that gardens and gardening are very good for us.

The report, ‘Gardens and health – implications for policy and practice’ concluded that gardens and gardening have real benefits by keeping us well and independent.

The aim of the study was to:

  • collect evidence to prove that gardens had a positive impact on wellbeing throughout someone’s life
  • show the importance of gardening in the healthcare system – in particular in social prescribing, end of life care, dementia care and social prescribing
  • call for more integration of gardens and health in policy and practice

This resulted in a range of recommendations forming a menu of ways that government departments, the NHS, local government, national bodies, health and wellbeing boards and clinical commissioning groups could use the varied health benefits of gardening to support their priorities.

The evidence relating to the health benefits of gardens and gardening link to the wider evidence of the positive impact green spaces can have on people’s health. These include long-term reductions in issues such as heart disease, cancer and musculoskeletal conditions.

There are also thought to be other benefits including lower levels of obesity, greater physical activity and higher self-rated mental health. In fact, gardening offers a wide range of benefits for people with mental health problems, including major reductions in depression and anxiety, better social functioning and providing opportunities for developing vocational skills.

Studies into school gardening suggest that children who become involved increase the amount of fruit and vegetables they eat and growing things gives them a sense of pride and achievement.

Gardens become more important to people as they age because they’re more likely to be used as a source of physical activity. They’ve also been found to have an important role in falls prevention and staving off dementia and cognitive decline – although they can lead to an increase in lower back pain.

Care UK has long been aware of the therapeutic value of gardens and open spaces and actively encourages wildlife into the grounds and gardens of its homes by having bird tables, feeders and bird baths dotted around. This also gives residents the opportunity to become involved in keeping these clean and restocked and to help with the annual RSPB survey of garden birds.

Other residents enjoy watching the different birds, squirrels and hedgehogs coming and going and it provides a talking point which can unlock memories for those with dementia.

Many of Care UK’s homes take part in the annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, which is the largest wildlife survey in the world and helps the charity to get an up to date snapshot of the health of  bird populations across the UK.

For one hour over one weekend in the year, Many Care UK homes and day clubs count the different types of birds they spot in their gardens. They also make a note of other animals they see during that time, such as hedgehogs or foxes.

Jason Axford, a senior nurse at Care UK with lots of experience of caring for older people, particularly those with dementia, said: “Connecting with nature in this simple way can improve mood and provide a talking point. Seeing the different markings of the birds and listening to their varied songs all helps to stimulate the senses and can bring back long-forgotten memories. And being involved in feeding the birds can be very rewarding.

 “The sense of wellbeing that comes from connecting with the outdoors and doing a regular, rewarding activity such as watching wildlife, can be extremely helpful for residents – especially those who are living with dementia.”

To read more about the report visit the Kings Fund website.

Image courtesy of JohnatAPW