Gardening Your Cares Away – Effects of Nature on Human Behavior

swans nature trail coopers hawk 009 225x300 Gardening Your Cares Away   Effects of Nature on Human Behavior

As the fall season grinds to a sudden chilly halt and I prepare for winter, my garden offers me less hands-on time while extending to me instead a few months to re-group and re-evaluate the past year.  As I briefly alluded to in my previous post, my home was under total renovation from October ’07 through October ‘08, after a neighbor’s house-fire severely damaged my own. Most of the yard work around Casa de GreenGardenista this year was simply the bare minimum maintenance work of mowing, and repeatedly cleaning up broken glass and the never ending parade of nails that perpetually appeared in my yard and garden. (Where does it all come from!?) Aside from wondering if any of the nails in the reconstruction process ever made it into the actual timbers of my house, I had plenty of time to re-evaluate my garden plan, and plan out my goals for the coming year.  A few short Saturday morning visits to the house for maintenance work turned into 6 hour stints of weed pulling, and restless re-arranging of garden plants, as I wrestled with my garden, and tried to make sense of both it and the situation I found myself in. It was a strange feeling, being a visitor in your own yard, but in some way the actual “doing” process of the yard work became a therapeutic exercise.

Many of you are like me, and find the learning exercise involved in gardening a grounding experience that soothes the soul and works out the kinks of the day’s stresses. Not everyone can take the same enjoyment from labor intensive outdoor work though. I used to wonder what it was that drew some people to the garden to relax, while other people wanted nothing to do with the hands-on aspect of gardening, and who found great enjoyment instead in something less time intensive, like a fresh bouquet of flowers. If we all reap some benefit from nature, is what we receive really that different from each other?

I was attending a symposium for the partners of the Wildlife Habitat Council recently, and attended a session dedicated to the study of the natural world and its effect on mental and physical wellness. The speaker was a doctoral student named Jason Duvall, from the University Of Michigan School Of Natural Resources And The Environment, and he shared both his own research and that of colleagues on the measurable effects nature has on human behavior.

He studied both the aspects of what the scientific community considers “active participation” with nature, which involves physical involvement with the outdoor world, and “passive participation” with nature, which involves simple things like a good view out an office, or hospital window, and attractive landscaping outside a school yard. He found, in studies spanning several decades, that active participation in gardening, hiking, and outdoor volunteerism resulted in higher levels of overall satisfaction with life, fewer colds, flu’s, and illnesses, and heightened ability to adjust to stress without being overwhelmed. Those results may seem common knowledge, with our understanding of the effect of exercise and endorphins in the body and in human psychology, but the documented results of passive interaction with nature on humans across the age, race, and career spectrum are what really impacted me. The studies Jason Duvall cited focused on a diverse population of people in a variety of walks of life, including the caregivers of AIDS patients, inner-city students, the elderly, and the common office worker. A passive interaction with nature was linked to everything from a reduced severity in symptoms in patients suffering from mental illness, to reduced crime in urban areas, and higher test scores in inner-city schools. The complete picture built from the results of this study showed our dependence on nature, and it’s profound and invisible effect on human physical and mental wellness.

In the lecture sessions I found a few answers to my own questions about nature’s impact on the hands-on garden or outdoor enthusiast, and the passive participant, and I’ll share with you some of the specifics of the study in the next few posts, so you can judge for yourself the impact our immediate environment has on our own behavior.

Your Thoughts: Are you an active or passive participant with nature, and do you feel that the environment around you impacts your day, and your outlook?

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  1. Fern says:

    I read somewhere that digging in dirt causes beneficial bacteria to be released into the air that is then inhaled by the gardener. And obviously, gardening is physically demanding. So I’m not surprised that gardeners are healthy. Also, physical exercise causes happy chemicals to be released in your brain, so its no wonder we gardeners are happy folk too. Gardening also allows you to accomplish something tangible on a regular basis (i.e. “I spent all afternoon weeding and now my garden looks great!”), which again, makes people feel good about themselves.

  2. I’m forwarding this on to Fred! Mr. “I only do demolition, never planting” has more allergies than I’ve heard of…mayhap he’ll have to join me for Spring Mulching. :)

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