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Working in a garden offers many health benefits and leads to a happier life, studies show.

The practice of horticultural therapy has a long and proven history.

The benefits of gardening and spending time in garden environments have been documented since the earliest times.

Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the “Father of American Psychiatry,” documented the positive effects of working in the garden for individuals with mental illness.

Then in the 1940s and ’50s, this specialized therapy was used to rehabilitate war veterans. This expanded the practice; it has since been embraced for a much wider range of therapeutic possibilities.

There has been an ongoing research study since 2010 at the University of Alabama at Birmingham that partners cancer survivors with garden coaches to plan, plant, maintain and harvest vegetable gardens at the survivors’ homes over a 12-month period of time.

The researchers measure things like range of motion, strength and flexibility, improved diet (with increased vegetable consumption) and general well-being. As you might suspect, the results have been incredibly positive — and the majority of the participants continued to garden after the initial year.

These therapy techniques can help participants learn new skills or regain those lost due to trauma of all sorts.

Horticultural therapy has been shown to help improve memory, language skills, cognitive abilities and socialization. When used for physical rehabilitation, it can help improve coordination, balance and endurance as well as strengthen muscles.

It comes as no surprise to many of us that gardening is scientifically proven to be good for all sorts of health concerns — even the very soil we work holds microbes that have anti-depressant properties. There are studies involving a substance in soil called mycobacterium vaccae, which seems to mirror the effects on neurons that certain pharmaceutical medications provide. This bacterium may stimulate serotonin production, which makes us feel relaxed and happier. The added bonus is that the bacterium has no adverse health effects.

Most avid gardeners will tell you that they are most peaceful and happy in their gardens, and science can explain why, at least in part. It doesn’t seem to matter if we garden for the beauty of it or to grow our own food — or both. The benefits from gardening are too numerous to count.

There is happiness, health and peace to be found in a garden. Let’s get our hands dirty — and get happy — today!

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