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Gardening and time in nature can support health and wellbeing in so many ways. In this guide, we look at some of the benefits for men’s health and share your tips and stories.

From Monty Don

"I garden because I love the process and the result. It is an endless source of fascination and pleasure. But I also garden because it returns me to myself. It sets the world and I straight when things have gone awry. Being outside, being aware of weather and season, nurturing living plants and investing in a growing future is a powerful source of hope - and with hope, anything is possible.”

- Horticulturist, garden writer and broadcaster, Monty Don OBE VMH

A grass strimmer is used to cut the grass
Someone cutting the grass with a grass strimmer

Taking part in gardening activities, or spending time in nature, can work wonders for our wellbeing.

In the UK, an estimated 27 million people – 42% of the population – enjoy gardening as a hobby. This might well be down to the wide variety of ways it can be enjoyed, along with how accessible it is. You can garden in any sort of space, from a big garden to a windowsill, and with any sort of budget.

While gardening can benefit everyone, there are particular ways it can help support men’s health. We explore some of these below.

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Mug with quote saying I'd rather be in the garden. Photo credit - Hans Vivek, Unsplash

Gardening can offer a range of benefits for physical and mental health.

Gardening for physical health

Gardening or spending time in nature can help keep you physically active.

Adults are recommended to do at least 150 minutes of light aerobic exercise a week according to guidelines from UK Chief Medical Officers.

Gardening can help you burn 250-500 calories an hour, through activities such as raking, digging, mowing the lawn and general maintenance.

At Thrive, we created a short ‘Gardening and Men’ survey in 2024. Out of 117 male respondents, 87% said gardening helps improve their physical fitness.

Regular physical activity, including gardening, can help you stay a healthy weight. It can also help reduce the risk of a range of health issues, such as type 2 diabetes or heart disease, which affect a significant number of men (as well as women).

More than 52,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year and 1 in 8 men will be diagnosed in their lifetime. There are studies suggesting physical activity, such as gardening, can lower the risk of getting prostate cancer. While more research is being done in this area, being more active is widely accepted to bring many health benefits.

Being physically active isn’t just good for the body. It often comes hand in hand with positive mental wellbeing benefits, including reduced stress and depression.

Gardening for mental health

Mental health problems are something many of us will experience at some point in our lives. According to Mind, 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England.

While poor mental health can affect people of any gender, there are some differences between men and women. In 2022, around three-quarters of suicides were by males. While finding generalised reasons is difficult, it is suggested traditional expectations of masculinity, being less willing or able to talk about mental health challenges, work and financial pressures are all potential contributing causes.

NHS referrals for psychological therapies are also skewed, with only 36% for men.

Gardening helps my mental health by regulating and distracting me from personal issues.

Participant, Thrive ‘Gardening and Men’ survey 2024

When it comes to supporting good mental health, gardening can play a part. There is a growing body of research behind this.

Research in Sweden found access to a garden can have a significant positive impact on stress. This didn’t need to be a big garden – a balcony with plants was equally beneficial.

Mental Health Foundation created a report on Mental Health and Nature. It highlighted that both time in nature and how connected to nature we feel can be important for our mental health.

In our Thrive ‘Gardening and Men’ survey, 91% of respondents said gardening helps boost their mood.

Even short periods outside in the garden, weeding, deadheading or just sitting watching how the garden changes over the days/weeks/months is so calming & rewarding.

Participant, Thrive ‘Gardening and Men’ survey 2024

Gardening for social connection

Some people enjoy gardening alone, appreciating the peace. But gardening can also be a social activity, creating the opportunity to connect with others.

If you like the idea of gardening as a group, you could join a local gardening group or community garden / allotment.

Some resources for finding groups include:

  • The RHS community gardens directory for groups nationwide
  • Incredible Edible groups if you are interested in growing food together
  • Men's Shed's Association are community spaces for men to connect. Activities vary by 'shed', but some help with projects at gardens and parks and share gardening / allotment tips. For anyone who would like to start up their own local 'shed', they also offer plenty of help and encouragement.

You could also garden with someone else in your own space. You could work together on gardening jobs – particularly bigger ones, like digging and planting. You could visit a green space, like a park or open garden, and enjoy walking and talking. Or you could share gardening tips and successes (and less successful parts!) with family, friends and neighbours.

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A gardener using tyres as planted containers
A person weeds using a hand fork
Weeding using a hand fork

There are a huge variety of ways to enjoy gardening and time with nature. It’s always best to do the things you like best.

Here are just a few examples:

Growing plants

There is so much choice when it comes to plants. You might like a garden full of colourful flowers, a productive space full of food produce, a home dotted with houseplants, or all of them!

There are many ways to grow and care for plants. You can choose what suits you best, or experiment with different growing methods, such as:

When you grow plants, you have the chance to enjoy caring for them and watching them grow. With food crops, you will hopefully get the chance to enjoy harvesting them and experiencing extremely fresh produce!

I like interacting with nature. I like to take photographs of the insects the flowers attract.

Participant, Thrive ‘Gardening and Men’ survey 2024

Maintaining your space

There are lots of ways to keep your plants and growing space in good condition. These all offer regular activity and include:

In our ‘Gardening and Men’ survey, 68% of respondents said maintaining their space was one of the things they most enjoy doing in the garden.

More physical activities

Some gardening activities really get you moving and burn calories. These include:

In our ‘Gardening and Men’ survey, 62% of respondents said more physical activities were something they most enjoy doing in the garden.

Using the garden as a social or relaxing space

You don’t always have to be actively gardening to get the benefits of your space. You can think of it as your outdoor room, where you could:

  • Eat and drink outside
  • Get together with family and friends
  • Play games, such as boules, ball games or a game of cards at an outdoor table
  • Simply sit with a book, or with nothing at all, and enjoy the sights, sounds and scents all around you
  • Watch any wildlife making use of your garden and appreciate the shared ecosystem you have helped create

In our ‘Gardening and Men’ survey, 70% of respondents said sitting and enjoying the garden was one of the things they most enjoy doing in it.

It’s nice to be in a green setting, hearing and seeing birds and looking at natural beauty.

Participant, Thrive ‘Gardening and Men’ survey 2024
A happy gardener hoes over his vegetable patch
A gardener hoes over their vegetable patch

In our ‘Gardening and Men’ survey, we asked participants to share advice for anyone looking to get started or to do more in the garden.

Here are some of the many helpful tips.

1. Make the time for it even if you’re busy

“Don’t hesitate, it’s good for the mind, body and soul as well as encouraging fauna & flora.”

“It’s hard to find time for yourself when every minute seems filled. Yet I’ve found that when I garden time slows as I settle into the green space around me. Sometimes just the wind in my hair, and sun on my back is enough. It’s a space to breathe, and just, be.”

“Just get out there and feel the soil!”

“Go and do 15 mins of deadheading, pull up a few weeds, trim the hedge.”

2. Choose activities you want to do

“Enjoy it - do something that sparks your passion.”

“Find your passion, vegetables, compost, building raised beds, but get outside daily!”

“Grow plants that you enjoy looking at (ornamentals) and eating (consumables). Try growing things from seed or cuttings. It is so rewarding, cheaper than buying plants and more ecologically sustainable. Visit beautiful gardens whenever you can to gain inspiration. Be creative and make your garden unique to you.”

3. Keep things simple and don’t put pressure on yourself

“Start with simple tasks and remember no one knows what every green thing is called.”

“If the jobs you need to do in your garden seem overwhelming limit yourself to one job at a time and for about half an hour.”

“Do it. Don't feel under pressure to do anything in particular, it's perfectly OK to just wander around or just sit looking at the life there.”

“Remember that it is supposed to be fun whether you are good at it doesn’t matter.”

“Start with something small, planting a pot etc and see how the fruits of your labours grow!”

“No experience. No matter. Get out and do something. It'll help with your head if having problems.”

4. Make time to enjoy and appreciate your efforts

“Remember it's a place to relax too.”

“Don't forget to stop and enjoy the space, don't just see the things that need to be done, focus on what you have achieved.”

“Stop stressing the little stuff. Enjoy finding a frog, a plant you thought had died. My partner has had her hands in the soil for years and I was a bit dismissive of it. Love being outside now.”

Help us continue to make gardening accessible for all. Make a donation to Thrive today. Thank you.

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