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Is gardening beneficial for mental health?

Author: Ivy Shiue
Institution: Northumbria University
Type of case study: Research

About the research

Gardening as a hobby has been shown to improve physical and mental health in vulnerable populations, but little research had been undertaken into the possible benefits of gardening for positive mental health in the general population. This study by Dr Ivy Shiue, of the Department of Healthcare, Northumbria University, investigated the relationship between gardening and mental health in general adults in a country-wide and population-based setting.

This study examined the level of activity undertaken by adults in Scotland, in particular involvement in gardening, and compared the level of activity with individuals general state of health. The research showed that adults undertaking gardening were less likely to report poor mental health, reported a better ability to concentrate and enjoy day-to-day activities. Engaging with gardening was also associated with the ability to make decisions, feeling reasonably happy and feeling that an individual is participating usefully in life.


The research used the Scottish Health Survey (2012 and 2013 waves), a country-wide, population-wide, multi-year study, which provides a detailed picture of the health of the Scottish population in private households and is designed to make a major contribution to the monitoring of health in Scotland. The Survey is used for the Scottish Government’s forward planning, for identifying gaps in health services provision and for identifying which groups are at particular risk of future ill-health. Data were retrieved on demographics, lifestyle factors, gardening engagement and mental health in adults. Statistical analyses of the data were carried out including chi-square test, t-test and survey-weighted logistics to determine the physical and mental health of the survey respondents and their engagement in gardening activities.

The study exposure (x variable) was the activity engagement (Question: ‘Have you done any gardening, DIY or building work in the past four weeks?’ Answer: yes, no) while the study outcomes (y variables) were self-rated health (Answer: very good, good, fair, bad, very bad) and mental health by GHQ-12 items (Answer: more than usual, same as usual, less than usual, much less than usual). Due to the statistical consideration of small sample size, answers were grouped into ‘normal (more than usual and same as usual)’ or ‘less than usual (less than usual and much less than usual)’. GHQ-12 is usually used to assess a subject’s mental health and psychological distress status (11). Covariates included age, sex, ethnicity, body mass index (BMI), self-smoking status (current, past, or never), indoor second-hand smoking status (yes or no) and physical activity habit (yes or no). In the subsequent analysis, people with any of the self-reported heart conditions including hypertension, stroke, heart attack, angina, heart murmur, abnormal heart rhythm, diabetes, and any other heart trouble were analysed separately. Survey-weighted logistic and multi-nominal regression modelling was carried out, depending on the outcome variables being binary or categorical. Effects were estimated by using odds ratios (OR) or relative risk ratios (RRR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI), with p < 0.05 considered statistically significant.

The results showed that out of 9709 Scottish adults aged 16–99, 5531 (57%) had not done any gardening in the previous four weeks. These individuals were more likely to have poor self-rated health and poor mental health. In contrast, those who engaged with gardening activities were less likely to have these self-rated health issues.

Findings for policy

This research has implications for preventative health planning across Scotland. The study indicates that populations in certain areas of Scotland were less likely to engage in gardening and promoting gardening in these populations help to improve the health of the population. The study also indicates that gardening can act as a preventative activity, prolonging good mental in adults. Future public health initiatives could promote home-based activity, such as gardening, as a way to improve mental health and the quality of life people experience.


To read more about this research the article on this study can be read here: 

Gardening is beneficial for adult mental health: Scottish Health Survey, 2012–2013