Dirt Therapy – 7 Health Benefits of Digging in the Dirt

Dirt Therapy – 7 Health Benefits of Digging in the Dirt

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Dirt therapy is the activity of using plants and gardening to improve mental well being.

I enjoy being outside in the garden and always feel refreshed after.  Children and animals have always had a desire to play in the dirt too.  Did you know there are actual health benefits to digging around in the dirt?

If you’re already gardening its likely you’ve noticed some benefits.  For those thinking of starting maybe this will help inspire you…

7 Health Benefits of Digging in the Dirt…

1.  Healing to your mind. 

The familiar sights, sounds and interaction with nature provides a comforting multi-sensory experience.  It provides peace and calmness to your mind.

Women relaxing in a garden.
Women relaxing in a garden.

2.  Fights Depression.

We all need this practical help to battle the pressure and stress life brings.

“Horticultural therapy as a treatment for many psychological and physical disorders, is a valid and increasingly popular intervention”

Stated by Mitchell Hewson, a horticultural therapist who helped establish the horticultural therapy program at Homewood Health Center, an addiction and mental health treatment facility in Ontario, Canada.  Horticultural therapy uses plants and gardening as a helpful and constructive activity because of it’s physical and mental benefits.

3.  Reduce Stress. 

One type of holistic therapy is called green care  This is another therapy focusing on the exposure to plants and gardening.  Through the simple act of observing nature, many trials have identified the beneficial effects on mood and mental health.  Several studies of people viewing plants and nature have revealed changes in EEG recordings and a reduction in stress, fear, anger and sadness.  Spending time in nature also reduced blood pressure, pulse rate and muscle tension.  Therefore, take a moment to stop and observe nature.

4.  Exercise. 

Exercising is an important activity but many fail to do it.  Several gardening tasks work major muscle groups such as legs, buttocks, arms, shoulders, neck, back and abdomen. These activities help muscles build strength and burn calories. The National Institute of Health named gardening for 30 – 45 minutes in its recommended activities.  Moderate intensity levels of exercise reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease and diabetes as well as to provide weight management.   One key ingredient of dirt therapy is the exercise factor.  Another important aspect is to incorporate stretching before and after gardening or any other exercise.  In extreme heat take things at a slower pace.

Dirt Therapy
Practicing dirt therapy by planting a plant in the garden.

5.  Improving your Diet. 

Studies have shown people who grow their own food are more likely to make better food choices.  Resulting in eating more fresh fruits and vegetables. Gardening is one way to get more nutrients in your diet.

“Growing food is very simple,” says Kathleen Frith, managing director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment (CHGE) at Harvard Medical School.

“It takes a little time, but things like tomatoes, lettuce, peppers — basic kitchen crops — are very forgiving. Really, anyone can learn to grow food pretty easily.”

Here is a simple beginner’s guide to starting gardening:

Gardening for Beginners: 3 in 1 Collection – Container Gardening, Greenhouse Gardening, Vertical Gardening


6.  Build Friendships. 

Neighbours and friends have always provided valuable gardening tips and often fresh produce.  For example, our neighbour gave my family some garden vegetables after we first met them.  They gave us one of the largest zucchini’s I’ve ever seen from a home garden.  This was an amazing welcome and start to a great friendship.  My grandfather and I spent hours in the garden together, it seemed like he could grow anything.  It was a love and passion for him.  Through all the hard work spent on his garden his family and others reaped the benefits.  My grandfather was blessed by being surrounded by nature and the enjoyment of digging in the dirt.  He lived to the ripe old age of 98.

Dirt Therapy
Young friends in Tulip field.

When I start our garden each spring, I remember the memories and resources my grandfather provided.  It’s one of the legacies he’s given to our family.  Take the time to share gardening with someone you care about or a new friend.  Community gardens are an ideal place to both cultivate your new garden and new relationships.  Urban gardens may also reduce stress levels and improve social interaction.  This is a another great reason to start a dirt therapy session!

7.  Brain Health. 

Joel Flagler is a professor of horticultural therapy at Rutgers University. Horticultural therapist’s work with groups like veterans, children, the elderly and those dealing with addiction or mental health problems. They can benefit from interaction with plants.  Fagler noted a study from the university about the effect of Japanese gardens on a group of Alzheimer’s patients.

Flagler stated, “Patients with advanced dementia were seen to have greatly improved short-term memory retention after a horticulture session. Some of the participants remembered the chirping sound of a cricket in the garden almost two weeks after the event.”

Next time you are looking for some positive vibes, first get some fresh air, take a walk in the park or better yet start a dirt therapy session and plant that flower garden.


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