Ecotherapy: How To Be Kind To Your Mind

Did you know that 1 in 3 find ecotherapy more effective than exercise and sport to manage their mental health problems? Read our guest blog by Decorative Aggregates to find out more…

Whether someone struggles with mental health issues or the stresses and strains of daily life, green therapy can be a great coping mechanism. The pandemic has had a significant impact on a huge proportion of people; finding ways to improve mental health is therefore essential at the moment. Whilst exercise works for some to manage their mental health, a study by Decorative Aggregates found green therapy to be far more effective for others to manage mental health problems. (Yet it’s scarcely promoted in recent times). Green therapy is something that can really help many, and all whilst sticking within the government guidelines.

Green therapy vs exercise: the distinction

What’s the difference between exercise and ecotherapy?

Ecotherapy (or green therapy) aims to improve your mental and physical wellbeing through doing outdoor activities in nature.

Green therapy can take place in both rural and urban settings, such as parks, gardens, farms and woodlands. It can include activities that focus on gardening, farming, a conservation project, time with animals, rock climbing, physical activities in green spaces; such as walking, running and cycling etc.

In the Decorative Aggregates survey, participants were told ‘exercise and sport’ refers to taking part in physical activity that does not take place in nature. It can include activities such as: any exercise in an indoor gym, playing squash, indoor swimming, weightlifting, boxing and spinning.

Survey findings

1,000 people were surveyed, who live with a diagnosed mental health condition that is uncontrolled (by medication or intervention) – and that has a significant impact on their daily life / activities. This revealed the following:

  • 45% have tried green therapy and of those people, 57% found it more effective than exercise and sport to manage their mental health difficulties.
  • 84% think gardening has mental health benefits but only 45% have tried green therapy to help.
  • Nearly 1 in 3 (31%) find green therapy more effective than exercise and sport to manage their mental health difficulties.

The Science

So why do people believe ecotherapy is so beneficial to mental health?

There’s increasing scientific and psychological evidence showing gardening has significant human health benefits. Mind, one of the leading UK mental health charities, states that “research into ecotherapy has shown it can be a successful treatment for mild to moderate depression”. This is thought to be due to a combination of:

  1. Doing more physical activity, which is known to have many physical and mental health benefits.
  2. Getting more regular social contact with people, which can reduce loneliness and boost self-esteem.
  3. Being surrounded by nature, which can boost your overall mood and sense of wellbeing.

Similarly, Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-analysis shows gardening provides substantial positive effects on the human mind. Their meta-analytic results show “most studies reported positive effects of gardening, and none reported significant negative effects.” Gardening had the largest positive effect on the subjects’ depression and anxiety. However, there were also significant improvements in their mood, stress and anger levels too.

How can you get started with green therapy?

If you think this is something you’d like to get involved with, there are plenty of easy ways to get started. 

  • Take walks in green areas or treks in the countryside.
  • Plant seeds that help the environment; flowers for bees, berry bushes for birds.
  • Create animal-friendly habitats such as log piles for a hedgehog-friendly garden, butterfly spas or a pond.
  • Create an edible garden; try easy to grow fruit and vegetables such as courgettes, tomatoes, runner beans, carrots, onions, strawberries and apples.
  • Prepare hanging baskets and planters.
  • Go dog walking.
  • Plant fast growing plants such as wheat grass and marigolds.
  • Learn flower arranging.
  • Begin birdwatching; the RSPB has plenty of resources to get you started.
  • Simple gardening tasks; digging soil, weeding, watering plants, trimming plants back, mowing the lawn.
  • Volunteering for a conservation project.
  • Partake in a nature survey such as counting species, or reporting wildlife sightings.
  • Join a local walking group.
  • Try nature meditation, often taking place in a natural setting such as a park.

 These are just a few ways, but you can find out more here.  

 How has green therapy helped others?

Here’s just one of the many inspiring stories where green therapy has had a really positive effect on someone’s well being:

“I am doing very well these days, but for a long time, I had very serious problems with anxiety and depression, wherein I couldn’t leave my house and had even attempted suicide. As I started with conventional therapy and medication, I also started gardening on an allotment where I lived. Truly, I think the garden saved me. It was light and life in a very low pressure way, where I didn’t have to talk much to anyone, and could still enjoy it on low energy days or when I felt I was struggling. I have now moved back to America, where I’m from, and live in a rented place without access to a garden, and I notice the difference in my mood. (And my diet.) Now I have an exercise bike and while it’s helpful, the garden was better. So glad to see someone studying this – I think it is underutilized. Cheers!”