Stress levels, in a world that's as busy and demanding as our own, are probably at an all time high but just thirty minutes of gardening a day has been shown to lower your levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.

How does gardening reduce stress?

Gardening releases stress relieving endorphins and studies have shown that it can be really helpful in fostering a feeling of well being while restoring your work / life balance.

A study in Florida followed a group of women who gardened twice a week for six weeks, sowing seed, planting bulbs and propagating plants. Subsequent brain scans and psychological observation indicated that they had very much reduced levels of stress, anxiety and anger.

Gardening has now become a recognised method of treating serious stress related disorders and depression. Sleep patterns and quality improve, self-esteem can also increase by following your horticultural efforts from seed through to maturity.

There is a further theory that gardening reduces the chances of dementia by up to 50%, as time spent outside keeps your brain ticking over, thinking, learning and being creative. There's no doubt that time in the garden will enable you to relax and keep active at the same time.

What are the physical benefits of gardening?

Gardening will give your respiratory and cardiovascular systems a thorough work out. Long term this will lessen your chances of obesity and developing a whole range of ailments including heart disease, strokes, diabetes and high blood pressure. Time outdoors also improves you intake of vitamin D that can fend off osteoporosis and other problems.

The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has in the past described how gardening lowered the chances of cancer, diabetes and even hip fractures. This follows a government report that found that lack of exercise contributes to a sixth of UK deaths and that over half of us don't exercise enough.

You'll burn over 300 calories per hour and, taken in the natural environment, exercise feels less intense and is more enjoyable compared to a sterile gym.

How will an allotment improve my health?

Picture of vegetables growing out of raised beds.
Vegetables growing out of multiple raised beds surrounded by gravel on the floor. 

Growing your own produce and knowing where it has come from also has health benefits. If they don't have an allotment, a significant number of people now have a vegetable plot in their garden.

Your appetite will also definitely increase and luckily gardening encourages a healthier diet as it makes sense that, if you are growing a good variety of vegetables, then you are going to eat these rather than junk food.

And getting your hands dirty is officially good for you, the University of Bristol has found that Myobacterium vaccae, a bacteria commonly present in soil, contains higher levels of serotonin than anti-depressant drugs and is thought to boost your immune system.

The same bacteria will help appetite, cognitive function and vitality, improving significantly the quality of life.

How can gardening help autism?

Autism affects a person's relationship with others and the way in which they experience the world. Gardening has increasingly been recognised as a rewarding activity for those with this condition.

For the 700,000 people in the UK who live with autism, the world is often overwhelming and full of anxiety. They struggle to communicate and interact socially and relate to people.

So it's no wonder that a calming and stress free garden is an attractive place where they can feel emotionally secure and where any potential can be realised, building confidence that can be replicated in other areas of their life.

In the television series 'The Autistic Gardener', all the people taking part benefited from the opportunities they were given, and the programme's inspiration was award winning designer Alan Gardner, whose focus on detail emanated from Asperger Syndrome which is on the Autism Spectrum. 

To create a calm atmosphere, designers recommend delicate scented flowers and pastel shades, perhaps soft grasses that move with the breeze. Everything in the garden, including plants should be non-toxic, although edible flowers, fruit and herbs are to be encouraged.

Initiate interest with varied planting and themes, bold colours can offer stimulation and providing structure is also be important. Calm areas with limited sensory distractions and safe hiding places are valuable as well as an area where children can run around to release energy.

Should doctors prescribe gardening?

The fact that gardens and gardening can play a key role in bodily and mental health, was highlighted in 'Gardens and Health' a report from the King's Fund, and this ought to be recognised by the government and NHS.

The report recognized the fact that access to gardens can have broad and diverse benefits, resulting in the prevention of illness and the promotion of good health, this will result in lowering NHS expenditure and saving tax payers' money.

Specifically, depression, loneliness, anxiety and stress can be reduced, and dementia symptoms alleviated. Heart disease, cancer and obesity can be combated, better balance amongst the elderly could lead to less falls while children may benefit from the sense of personal achievement.

There are certainly hospice garden projects but the use of gardens in medical and social care remains restricted despite positive results.

The chief of the Queen's Nursing Institute has commented that nurses in the community already understand gardening's benefits. We need to build on the evidence and get it translated into policy and practice.

Gentleman gardening with his small dog by his side
Image of a gentleman gardening using tools to replant flowers with his small dog laying by his side 

Clinical commissioning groups in particular could work with councils to include gardening in social prescribing projects where patients learn to grow food in a secure and safe environment

The NHS, clinicians and local government should do more to promote horticulture, especially in their 'flagship programmes', gardening should be 'prescribed' to improve health, local authorities innovative ways of sustaining public gardens.

Clearly gardening has many benefits, increasing strength and endurance, improving both physical and mental dexterity, and having a calming effect on your lifestyle.

There's no doubt that gardening is a 'satisfying and relaxing' activity with positive mental and physical results. Only 30 minutes a day can have a major effect on your health and well being, so what's stopping you?