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STH can have a beneficial effect on physical health through encouraging greater levels of physical activity and engagement with graded tasks designed to build strength, stamina, balance, and motor control. These may be associated with weight-loss or healthier eating goals (linked to obesity which increases the risk of health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, some cancers, heart disease, stroke, depression, and anxiety) or as part of a rehabilitation programme following illness or injury such as brain injury, spinal cord injury, stroke, cancer, and other neurological diagnoses.

There are often close connections between physical health and mental health and most studies report a combination of benefits for a given target group.

  • ­A horticultural therapy (HT) programme was implemented along with occupational therapy (OT) in 20 patients with hemiplegia after stroke (treatment group). In the control group, another 20 patients with hemiplegia after stroke received OT but no HT. The patients were tested on the grooved pegboard test (GPT) [for manipulative dexterity], geriatric depression scale (GDS), and functional independent measure (FIM) [for motor and cognitive disability]. Unlike the control group, the treatment group showed statistically significant differences in GPT, GDS, and FIM. In addition, communication, social cognition, and self-care scores were improved significantly by the HT programme which motivated patients to engage in rehabilitation therapy. [Kim M-Y. and others, (2010). Effects of horticultural occupational therapy on the physical and psychological rehabilitation of patients with hemiplegia after stroke. Korean Journal of Horticultural Science and Technology. 28 884-890]
  • The study was of 79 participants who all had chronic back pain or fibromyalgia for at least 6 months. They were split into two groups with 37 receiving horticultural therapy (HT) and 42 in the control group (no HT). There were small to moderate effects in both groups but significantly larger improvements for the HT group in physical and mental health, in anxiety and pain behaviour. [Verra M.L. and others, (2012). Horticultural therapy for patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain: results of a pilot study. Alternative Therapies.18(2) 44–50]
  • In this study, 14 adults with learning disabilities engaged in a twice-weekly HT program for 6 weeks. They showed measurable improvements in hand and upper limb function, in the moderation of impulses and in the ability to understand other people. Also, according to blood testing, there was an improvement in elements signifying brain nerve growth. [Son H-J. and others, (2022) Horticultural therapy for improving the work performance and interpersonal relationships of persons with intellectual disabilities. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(21):13874. This study also focused on people with learning disabilities, examining the effects of a horticultural therapy programme for 28 people with 8 x 120-minute sessions, caring for succulents. The programme was effective in improving hand function, emotional behaviour strategies, and social skills. [Joy Y.S., Lee A-Y., Park S-A. (2020) A horticultural therapy program focused on succulent cultivation for the vocational rehabilitation training of individuals with intellectual disabilities Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 17(4) 1303 https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17041303]

Dr Claxton referred a young man in late 20s to a 10-week Course of Garden Therapy. The patient had been reclusive since schooldays and presented with high BMI, depression and subsequent Agoraphobia, Type 2 Diabetes, high Blood Pressure, and was Long-term Unemployed.

Following the 10-week course, Dr Claxton noted the following in his patient:

­Reducing weight

  • ­Improved BP
  • ­Improving Diabetes Control
  • ­Reducing Antidepressants

The young man was now much more outgoing and was talking about his career options.