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The Mood Dirt Connection

Posted on: March 15th, 2019

By: Avie Rosacci, Executive Director

Are you under stress and need an outlet that not only reduces stress but also improves your overall health? Have you thought about gardening? You don’t need a great deal of space, time or money to start a little garden of your own. You can even have just a few clay pots on your porch to accomplish this.

Some people are apprehensive to begin as they claim to not know anything about gardening. A garden is like a pet, it just needs attention, water and food. Unlike your pet, you can leave it outside when you are done and simply enjoy your little garden patch for a little each day.

A Dutch study looking at how to relieve acute stress in 2010, as reported in the Journal of Health Psychology, studied two groups of people who were asked to either garden outside for 30 minutes or read for 30 minutes. While both groups benefitted from the activity, the gardening group experienced a higher drop in cortisol levels than the reading group AND a positive attitude was recorded after gardening, but not so in the reading group. So the simple act of 30 minutes of toiling in the earth can not only improve stress markers, but you have the pleasure of harvesting and sharing with your family and friends. Better yet, include your young ones.

In addition, the beneficial bacteria in the soil called Mycobacterium vaccae, has been shown to improve our mood. Yes, dirt can make us happier and healthier! While performing research with cancer patients, Dr. Mary O’Brien, an oncologist in London, wanted to see if cancer patients could benefit from this beneficial soil bacteria by injecting the bacteria in the soil in her patients. The results showed the patients were “happier, expressed more vitality, and better cognitive functioning”. Although she hoped the bacteria would fight the lung cancer, it failed, but the moods were noticeably improved during such a stressful condition. You can find access to Dr. O’Brien’s study here.

Speaking from my own experience, digging in, breathing in and simply exposing my body to my garden soil always lifts my spirits. As one who has battled rising cortisol levels for years, I am happy to report greatly reduced cortisol levels and a return to health. No, this was not the only thing I did, but I can vouch that there was a sense of calm that came over me by digging in the dirt.

So go ahead….get dirty….plant a garden this year! Grow some vegetables with your kids and see how the commitment to growing the foods will heighten their appreciation for vegetables. You don’t have to be a seasoned gardener; you can be like me…I garden by trial and error as well as Google as my resource after failure. I always have a better crop after a failure as I strive to learn more before the next season. It’s oddly satisfying!

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