There are around 7.6 million people in the UK living with heart and circulatory diseases, according to the British Heart Foundation. Within this are a wide range of conditions, from coronary heart disease to vascular dementia.
Fantastic improvements have been made in the survival rate from heart and circulatory diseases. Even so, it is the cause of 25% of all UK deaths and costs around £9 billion for healthcare services.
Gardening to reduce the risk of heart disease
There are many different risk factors that can contribute to developing heart and circulatory disease. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, being overweight, diet and exercise. With some of these, you can take action to help reduce the risk. Gardening can be a part of this.
A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggested even low levels of physical activity could reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and more. It mentioned gardening and walking as two examples.
Stress has the potential to impact heart health in different ways. When we’re stressed, we may reach for unhealthy foods, or stop exercising. Gardens can help reduce stress. Research in Sweden found this was true even if the person had a simple balcony.
Gardening to support recovery and rehabilitation
If you are already living with heart disease, gardening at home can be a good way to support your wellbeing. It can be an important part of your rehabilitation.
Gardens and nature can help us achieve the five ways to wellbeing, which are:
I came out of hospital and I'd lost lots and lots of confidence … but I never really doubted that I was going to get better. It struck me that it's something about the mindset of gardening. It's all about planning for future things.Mike, Thrive volunteer and heart attack survivor
Just 30 minutes of gardening a day can be enough to help recovery.
You can garden using just one pot. You don’t need acres of land! And you can start activities any time. If you have heart disease, it is a good idea to take some precautions before getting going in the garden. Read our guide to gardening activities with heart disease for helpful tips.
Following my cardiac setbacks, I've started gardening at a cardiac allotment project … I really enjoy being out in the fresh air, having a go and getting to feel more confident and fitter.John, gardener and cardiac patient
Can gardening cause heart disease?
A widely shared 2022 paper in Cardiovascular Research looked into the threat to human health from soil pollution.
Home gardens were not the focus of the research. Agricultural and industrial land use is more worrying for soil pollution. But some of the connected news articles did use the research as a warning to gardeners.
If you are worried about risks from the soil, there are simple things you can do:
You may not need to make any changes to your garden. There are ways you can adapt your space if it makes things easier to do. These could be small changes, like adding more seating, or bigger design changes.
When your garden is easy to get around, it can encourage you to spend more time in it.
If you have paths, check they are safe and stable. If you use a stick, walking frame or wheelchair to move around, make sure paths are wide enough.
Think about any changes in level in your garden. Having steps or a ramp with a sturdy handrail may help navigate these.
If you have flower beds and borders, keep them narrow. This way, you can reach across them without overstretching.
Read our guide to accessible garden design for more advice.
Ways of gardening
You may find certain ways of gardening are more enjoyable and comfortable for you.
Some people prefer gardening in raised beds or elevated planters instead of at ground level. Our guide to gardening in raised beds has in-depth advice.
Another option is to grow plants in smaller containers. You can move them onto a table when working with them, allowing you to garden seated. You could get some help moving them into their final place, if needed.
If you have beds and borders, you can reduce the need to dig by trying the no dig method. This approach uses a good layer of mulch and the natural action of worms to improve soil. It tends to mean less weeding is needed too.
You may prefer gardening in a seated position. You can find garden stools, so you can sit and reach beds and borders. A table and chairs set up outside may allow you to enjoy doing seated activities, like sowing seeds, outside.
In general, it’s a good idea to grow what you like best.
Some plants need less time and attention than others. Read our guide to low maintenance plants for suggestions of less fussy flowers and food crops.
Looking after your garden
Many maintenance activities can become an enjoyable part of your gardening routine. There are ways to adapt them to reduce strain and energy if helpful.
Having water butts and standpipes around the garden can reduce how far your need to walk with a watering can. Read our guide to watering plants outdoors for more suggestions.
You can reduce weed growth by laying weed control fabric over beds and borders. Cut holes to grow wanted plants through. If you garden in raised beds, weeding is usually less effort. Follow our guide to weeding the garden for more tips.
You might be able to continue using the same tools you always have done.
If you are finding any task a bit tricky, there may be an adapted tool that can help. Read our guide to gardening tools and equipment and heart disease.
For Mike, a volunteer at our Birmingham centre, gardening has supported his recovery after two heart attacks. Watch as he shares how a ‘mindset of gardening’ has helped his physical and mental wellbeing.