The physical benefits are pretty obvious – digging or raking a lawn for 30 minutes requires as much energy as a 2km (1.2-mile) run – and so it should come as no surprise it can help reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity and cancer.
Gentle gardening has an impact in much less obvious ways-It could improve balance, thus helping reduce falls in the elderly, and tackle anxiety and stress.
Simply being in a garden can be beneficial too. In care homes, gardens have been found to be good for reducing the agitation and aggression linked to dementia, while hospices have found the tranquillity of nature can play an important part in end-of-life care. A report published by the King’s Fund.
Medical advances mean people are living longer, but many have incurable health conditions, such as dementia, heart disease and diabetes, for which they need care and support. Two-thirds of the NHS budget is estimated to go on these patients, and this is one of the reasons why – despite increases in spending – the health service is constantly stretched.
Coupled with this are the rising demands health professionals – and GPs in particular – are reporting they face from people coming to them for non-health reasons such as personal problems and unemployment concerns. These need to be taken seriously – left to fester, they manifest themselves in ailing mental and physical health.
A report last year by Citizens Advice indicated a fifth of GPs’ time was spent dealing with non-health problems – that’s the equivalent of more than one consultation for everyone in the country.
The answer – some believe – is social prescribing. This is a means of enabling doctors to refer patients with social, emotional or practical problems to a range of non-NHS services. By working with councils and the voluntary sector, doctors up and down the country are now prescribing not just volunteering and gardening, but everything from arts groups and walking schemes to dance classes and benefits advice.