Gardening as therapy

As well as being enjoyable, gardening can be good for you. Studies have shown that gardening improves general health, and can help reduce both stress and anxiety. It can refocus attention when we feel overwhelmed, boost mood and improve balance.

In terms of exercise, as long as you avoid heavy digging, landscaping etc. and being out in very hot temperatures, gardening can be great low impact exercise for during and after cancer treatment. It can be something to do for anyone convalescing from surgery, between or after treatments  as garden tasks come in all shapes and sizes.

It can be a way of being sociable whilst also having a task to focus on and, as it is enjoyable, it's an activity that is likely to be continued.

Maggie’s centres are generally set in beautiful gardens. We recognise that the space around us (whether inside or out) creates an environment which helps our visitors to find the emotional space they need

If you don’t have your own garden you could try gardening on a small scale using containers and window boxes. There are also a growing number of community groups gardening in social spaces or there may be a gardening for health group near you.

Gardening can be a great way to relax whilst also getting some exercise.  A few precautions are advised, particularly if you are at the mid point between cycles of chemotherapy. Your immune system will be low and you can be susceptible to infections.

  • Take care to protect yourself from scratches or thorns.
  • Protect your skin / cover up to avoid sunburn (certain treatments can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight).
  • Wear gloves and wash your hand thoroughly after gardening.
  • Don’t overdo it -  take regular breaks and avoid heavy lifting. If you are feeling tired then just sitting in the garden will also be beneficial.

House plants

Houseplants are also good for your health.They ‘breathe’ in the opposite way to us taking in the carbon dioxide that we breathe out and turning it into oxygen  - they are natural air cleaners. Having living plants around the home or workplace has been shown to improve air quality, mood, concentration, the ability to tolerate pain and to reduce stress and fatigue (tiredness).

Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing)  

Shinrin-yoku is traditionally practiced in Japan. In recent years there has been increased interest in its benefits in the UK. It literally translates as 'forest bathing'. It involves simply being in forested areas, noticing what you can see, hear, smell and touch. Studies have shown that even a few minutes of forest bathing can reduce levels of stress and improve concentration.

What now?

You may like to find out more about including gardening in your life in a way that is manageable to you. You can find out more from the links below and also the books listed in the gardening and Health blog.

Visit your local Maggie's centre. Most of our centres have gardens and some have gardening groups.

Last review: Nov 2021 | Next review: Nov 2022

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