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Study Reveals a Surprisingly Healthy COVID-19 Activity for Social Distancing

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture

Prolonged social distancing affects many adversely. Here’s what a new study reveals when measuring what makes people happiest in order to determine the healthiest COVID-19 activity for social distancing.


COVID-19 Cabin Fever

One of the results of COVID-19 social distancing is that if you’ve visited a local park or even just took a longing peek out of your window, you’ve probably noticed a lot more people walking around your neighborhood. This no accident. Many people feel stressed from our social distancing, which for most of us probably equates to something similar to being under house arrest and experiencing cabin fever. Hence, people may feel the need to break out of their own home and just “get out there.”

It may also have some to do with getting over seasonal affective disorder from this past winter and the long wait for warmer days and sunnier thoughts. Compound our environmental climate with our political climate—an over-glut of news about deaths, illnesses, claims of fake news and our country’s lack of leadership—it’s only a matter of time before the stress affects each and every one of us and leaves us only as unhappy shells of our former selves.

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But if doesn’t have to be so.

Finding Ways to Be Happy

According to a new study that measured the emotional well-being (i.e. happiness) of people during these trying times, the study found that gardening ranks overall among the top five activities for people who reported higher emotional well-being. Similar, in fact, to activities such as biking, walking or dining out. Furthermore, among women and low-income study participants, the data suggests that gardening as an activity actually rates higher than other popular non-gardening activities.

In addition, the study also revealed that there were no significant differences between people who gardened alone or with others. And, that people who kept vegetable gardens reported a higher level of average emotional well-being than those who limited their gardening to ornamentals.

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A news release from the Princeton Environmental Institute states that:

"The high levels of meaningfulness that respondents reported while gardening might be associated with producing one's own food," said first author Graham Ambrose, a research specialist in Princeton’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

"The boost to emotional well-being is comparable to other leisure activities that currently get the lion's share of infrastructure investment. These finding suggest that, when choosing future well-being projects to fund, we should pay just as much attention to household gardening."

Furthermore, the news release tells us that researchers plan to replicate their study by comparing the emotional benefits of household gardens versus community gardens, which could prove to be important for food action planning in cities.

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When Community Gardening with Others

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However, since we still currently have COVID-19 to deal with and are encouraged to continue the practice of social distancing, the University of Missouri Extension Service reminds gardeners that when it comes to shared public gardening, safety is paramount.

“Gardening provides many health benefits that are needed during these stressful times,” says Jennifer Schutter, a University of Missouri Extension horticulturist. “These benefits include exercise, a boost in mental health from time spent in nature and growing your own healthy food.”

But at the same time, she reminds us that we should all observe the following protective measures when community gardening:

• Public gardens should provide handwashing stations or hand sanitizer.

• Gardeners should wash their hands upon entering and exiting the area with either soap and water for 20 seconds, or use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.

• All reusable bins, shared tools, tables and other surfaces, should be routinely disinfected between each user.

• Wear a mask while in public. When You Should Wear A N95 Dust Mask While Gardening

• Stay home if you are sick or have been around anyone who is sick.

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Do you have high blood pressure? If so, try this little self-experiment by measuring your blood pressure before, during and after gardening and let us know in the comments section below if gardening makes a difference.

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Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with a background in farming and an avid home gardener, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on the connection between plant biology and gardening for healthy living. For continual updates about plants and health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Images courtesy of Pixabay


Sowing seeds of happiness: Emotional well-being while home gardening similar to other popular activities, study finds” by Morgan Kelly; Princeton Environmental Institute News, May 12, 2020.

Is gardening associated with greater happiness of urban residents? A multi-activity, dynamic assessment in the Twin-Cities region, USA” Graham Ambrose et al; Landscape and Urban Planning; Volume 198, June 2020.

Safe gardening grows your mindfulness” University of Missouri Extension Services; May 11, 2020.