Who knew that burying seeds in dirt and caring for plants could help you live to 100?
Scientists have studied the secrets to a long life for decades now, and they’ve settled on a few things that always help us stay healthy and happy: eating fruits and veggies, exercising, spending times outdoors, avoiding stress, and having great reasons to live.
Well, it looks like one activity that delivers all of the above is gardening – and it might help us live to be healthy centenarians.
This week, the BBC looked into how gardening is good for us, starting with the fact that it’s a popular pastime in the “blue zones” of the world, where people live the longest lives. Specifically, they talked to author and researcher Dan Buettner, who has studied five blue zones – Okinawa in Japan, Nicoya in Costa Rica, Icaria in Greece, and Loma Linda in California and Sardinia in Italy – and Dr Bradley Willcox, who studies aging populations in Okinawa.
First off, the simple act of being in nature is good for us — even if we’re working in a small urban garden plot. Not only does being around plant life make us feel better mentally, it also actually cleans the air and allows us to literally breathe easier (and avoid illnesses linked to pollution).
Secondly, gardening is low-level physical activity, which is great for our bodies and our longevity — not to mention that it’s easy for seniors to continue with even after more strenuous forms of exercise are too difficult.
At the same time, it adds much-needed structure to your day.
“If you garden, you’re getting some low-intensity physical activity most days, and you tend to work routinely,” says Buettner.
Next, gardening has social benefits: you not only meet people in community gardens, but at local markets and in your neighborhood — or when you offer someone your spare squash. Being social and having hobbies is a huge piece of the puzzle when it comes to living longer — loneliness literally can kill.
“In Okinawa, they say that anybody who grows old healthfully needs an ikigai, or reason for living,” Wilcox said. “Gardening gives you that something to get up for every day.”
Gardening was even specifically found to lower rates of dementia in Australian women in their 60s, scientists believe because of the fresh air and calm activity, paired with the colors and textures of the plants and surroundings.
On top of all that, gardening, in many cases, produces fruit and vegetables — which many gardeners then eat. Having a plant-based diet is a huge factor in warding away illness and keeping our bodies healthy for longer. On top of that, growing your own food has other benefits.
“When you eat vegetables that you’ve grown yourself, it changes everything – they taste more delicious, and it really makes a difference in the health qualities of the food itself,” Willcox said.
Basically, gardening helps your physical, social, dietary, and mental health. It’s also fun. So, grab your trowel and a seed packet and let’s start digging.