Gardening is so much more than just making your home look inviting. It’s time to whip out your gardening gloves because not only are digging and weeding great exercise, a good stint of gardening boosts mental health too.

Recent research carried out by Harvard University’s public health graduate school and Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that people living in an area rich in vegetation have improved physical and mental health, and 30% of the overall morale benefit from living near vegetation came from lower levels of depression.

Professor Tim Lang, Centre for Food Policy at City University London says it’s widely recognised that regular contact with plants, animals and the natural environment can improve our physical health and mental wellbeing. When we grow food and flowers, we’re engaging with the natural world at a pace that provides a welcome antidote to the stresses of modern life.

Soil has been found to have similar effects on the brain as antidepressants to lift mood. A study by the University of Bristol and colleagues at University College London looked at how mice exposed to ‘friendly’ bacteria normally found in soil, altered their behaviour in a similar way to that produced by an antidepressant. Dr Chris Lowry, lead author on the paper, said:

“These studies help us understand how the body communicates with the brain and why a healthy immune system is important for maintaining mental health. They also leave us wondering if we shouldn’t all be spending more time playing in the dirt.”

When the team looked closely at the brains of mice, they found treatment with the bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae activated a group of neurons that produce the brain chemical serotonin, which regulates mood. Gardeners inhale the bacteria and have physical contact with it. The natural effects of the soil bacteria can be felt for up to three weeks, if the experiments with rats are any indication. Mycobacterium antidepressant microbes in soil are also being investigated for improving cognitive function, Crohn’s disease and even rheumatoid arthritis.

So, get digging and feel better. It’s like coming home for us because we have forgotten that we are part soil after all and so getting back to our proverbial ‘roots’ so to say might be better than popping that pill.

The Ignite team will keep bringing you new ideas on how to reconnect with Mother Nature right in your own yard.