Quit the gym: gardening is better for you – and here's why

New survey suggests people feel better when they garden than when exercising, cleaning, or achieving at work

plants in a garden
(Image credit: Leigh Clapp Photography)

We're all after activities that make us happier these days, and measuring different hobbies and pursuits for just how happy they make us is something of a modern obsession. Does exercise raise dopamine levels? Will meditating help you stay calmer, and is getting enough vitamin D linked to a better mood? 

With so many of us finding modern life stressful, it's no wonder that some people are increasingly turning to activities that allow us to be closer to nature and involve tasks we can perform at our own pace. 

Gardening is perfect in both respects – an outdoor activity that's soothing and introspective, and is not competitive. In fact, according to a recent survey, 81 per cent of us said that gardening has a better impact on our mental health than going to the gym; 35 per cent derive a greater satisfaction from keeping the garden looking great than from running; and 13 per cent even say that gardening makes them feel better than doing well at work. 

These figures point to an exciting shift in people's mindset, away from activities that force us to constantly compare ourselves to others or being assessed for how we're doing. Unless you are a landscape architect designing a show garden, the only person your planting scheme needs to please is yourself. 

Corinne Sweet, psychotherapist and broadcaster, says, 'Gardening is a brilliant de-stressor. Hacking down shrubs, mowing the lawn, digging in bulbs, even just weeding and planting can lower blood pressure and create a healthy mindful state. 

'When we garden we get fresh air, exercise and light. The latter is important to aid the body's production of vitamin D and serotonin. These elements can help fend off depression and low moods. If you don't have a garden, even window boxes and pots can help, as getting your hands dirty is a good way to get grounded and more relaxed. It puts us back in touch with our primeval selves and helps iron out modern-day stresses.'

David Lawson, managing director of AO.com, who conducted the study, comments further, 'The research shows how gardening really does have a positive impact on mental health, and perhaps surprisingly, even more so than exercising in the gym.'