One of my favorite TV programs here in the UK is Gardeners' World - and one of the presenters is Mark Lane who is confined to a wheelchair after an unsuccessful back operation followed by a road accident some years ago. He is both a garden designer and a TV presenter - all done from a wheelchair. He is the first to admit that being able to garden was his saving grace from sinking into depression at the time of his accident. He says: "Without gardening and garden design, I would certainly be a different person today. Yes, I have bad days. Days when even getting out of bed is too difficult, or my pain is unbearable, but if possible my partner will help me to go outside and straight away I can feel the benefits of nature and being in the open air."
He adds: "I find it astonishing that I appear to be the first recognised garden designer in a wheelchair. The horticultural world needs its knuckles rapped. We know the research says that plants and gardening are good for the mind and body – I am living proof of that
It does not have to be all about gardening though. We have written before on the benefits of green exercise for our mental health
, pointing out that just five minutes – yes 5 minutes – of exercise in a park, working in a backyard garden, on a nature trail or other green space will benefit mental health. Of course, the longer you spend the more benefits you can accrue.
Soil as an antidepressant
We have written on this before
but it is well worth repeating. Soil has been found to have similar effects on the brain as antidepressants – to lift the 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, leader of the research 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. If you are gardening:
- You will inhale the bacteria
- Have physical contact with it and
- Reap the benefits for up to 3 weeks
Vitamin D is vital for mental health too
Are you feeling depressed or unhappy? Vitamin D is often called the “feel good” vitamin or hormone and those with good levels will generally be happier with their lives. The brain hormone associated with mood elevation, and known as serotonin, increases when exposed to bright light and that of course includes sunlight. Sunlight is therefore key to raising vitamin D levels – exposure to sunlight frequently and between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm to as much skin area as possible until it starts to turn pink. When impossible, supplementation with good quality vitamin D3 along with some good fat (eg coconut oil or butter) and a dose of vitamin K2 to aid absorption. Adults need anything between 4,000 and 8,000 IUs of vitamin D3 supplements per day to achieve a minimum serum level of 40 ng/ml. If you can go higher, so much the better. The secret is in regular testing and we tell you more about this in our earlier post
"Groundwork" and "Thrive"
Mark Lane is the 'Health, Wellbeing and Community' Ambassador for Groundwork, the community charity with a green heart carrying out thousands of projects each year across the UK, building stronger communities by improving green spaces, and an Ambassador for Thrive
the disability charity that uses gardening to help people living with disabilities or ill health and positively changing their lives. “I love the fact gardening makes people happy; it gets them talking and they laugh, often for the first time in years."
And some final words from Mark
“I love every minute of my work. My depression is under control, my energy levels have increased, strong painkillers control my pain and I feel as if my brain neurons are sparking again. I’m a completely different person
.” "Just getting our fingers in soil releases serotonin, a feel good hormone – it’s the same as eating a bar of chocolate!" Gardening and just getting outdoors has to be good for everyone.