New paper: Spending time in the garden linked to better health and wellbeing

A new paper by Sian de Bell, Mat White and co working with the Royal Horticultural Society, and using data from Natural England, shows that spending time in the garden, whether to garden or relax, is beneficial for health and wellbeing.

This study of a representative sample of the English population demonstrates the link between gardens and health and wellbeing outcomes, finding positive effects of private garden access, gardening and other uses of gardens for both wellbeing and physical activity level

For 50 days the paper can be downloaded for free using this link.

What did we find?

The study used national representative data from nearly 8000 respondents to the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment survey. Analysis of the data showed that, after controlling for other factors that might affect the relationships, people who report using the garden for both relaxing and gardening are significantly more likely to report good general health, higher psychological wellbeing, and greater physical activity levels than those who do not spend time in their garden.

We showed that 71% of people who use their garden for gardening or relaxing reported high well being, compared to 61% among people who do not use their gardens. Garden users were also 7% more likely to meet the recommended 150 minutes of weekly moderate or vigorous activity, than non-garden users. The benefits of using the garden were found for all social groups.

The magnitude of the benefits of spending time in the garden to health and wellbeing were similar to the difference in reported health between people living in the wealthiest parts of the country, compared to the poorest.

The study also found that, in comparison to people who did not have access to any kind of outdoor space, people with access to a private garden had higher psychological wellbeing and even those with access to an outdoor space such as a yard were more likely to meet physical activity guidelines.

Who has and who uses gardens?

The majority of people reported having access to some sort of garden or outdoor space. There is some variation in reported availability between socio-demographic groups, for instance more affluent people were more likely to have private gardens than less affluent people (89% AB; 71% DE). People who own their own home were more likely to have private gardens than renters (90% own; 62-64% rent).

Nearly half of people aged over 65 reported that they both gardened and relaxed in their garden, whereas less than a quarter of people aged 16 to 34 used the garden for both of these activities. However, the younger age group were the most likely to report just using the space for relaxing.  More people in the socio-economic (SES) group AB reported using their garden for gardening or relaxing than people classed as group DE. Retired people were the more likely to report gardening and relaxing in their garden than any other employment group.

Our findings have important implications given the current lockdown due to Covid-19. They demonstrate how gardens can support health whilst people are confined to home. However, there are some inequalities in garden access in the UK. Whilst the majority of people have access to some sort of garden or outdoor space, younger people and people in more socio-economically deprived groups were less likely to have a private space than older and less deprived groups. The findings emphasise the need to include the provision of private gardens in the planning process to support health and wellbeing.

About the study

The study used data from the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment survey which is run by Natural England and is a large-scale, nationally representative survey which asks people in England about their use of the natural environment, including whether they have access to a garden and whether they use the garden to relax or to garden. It also collects a range of other information from respondents such as age, gender, and home ownership which were considered in the analysis as confounding factors. The data were collected before the COVID lockdown.

This study was partly supported by funding from Innovate UK as part of the Greenkeeper project, NIHR the Health Protection Unit and is published in Landscape and Urban Planning. You can read the full paper here: de Bell, S., White, M., Griffiths, A., Darlow, A., Taylor, T., Wheeler, B., & Lovell, R. (2020). Spending time in the garden is positively associated with health and wellbeing: Results from a national survey in England. Landscape and Urban Planning, 103836. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2020.103836

Because our paper is behind a paywall, we have provided a little more detail on the study and findings.

Details of the questions we used from MENE

We used a question on garden ownership: Which of the following best applies to you …?, with possible answers being ‘I have access to a private garden’, ‘I have access to a private communal garden’, ‘I have access to a private outdoor space but not a garden (balcony, yard, patio area)’, or ‘I don’t have access to a garden’.

In relation to what people do in their gardens we used the following question ‘Which of the following activities involving the natural environment do you take part in? Please choose everything you do, both regularly and occasionally’. A number of activities, such as watching or listening to nature programmes, looking at books, photos or websites about the natural world, and watching wildlife, were listed. We used two response relating to the garden: ‘Gardening’ or ‘Sitting or relaxing in a garden’.

Our health and wellbeing outcomes were self-reported general health, evaluative wellbeing; eudaimonic wellbeing, frequency of physical activity and visits to greenspace. More detail can be found on the MENE survey technical reports. 

Some more detail on the findings

After controlling for relevant factors using the garden for both relaxing and gardening was associated with better general health (OR 1.48, CI 1.26-1.74), evaluative wellbeing (OR 1.48, CI 1.27-1.74), eudaimonic wellbeing (OR 1.88, CI 1.56-2.26), with a higher likelihood of meeting the physical activity guidelines (OR 1.44, CI 1.24-1.67), and visiting nature (OR 1.90, CI 1.66-2.16), compared with doing neither activity.

Using the garden for either relaxing or gardening were also associated with reporting high eudaimonic wellbeing (relaxing OR 1.29, CI 1.07-1.55; gardening OR 1.53, CI 1.19-1.98) and visiting nature once a week (relaxing OR 1.26, CI 1.10-1.44; gardening OR 1.36, CI 1.14-1.62). Reporting using the garden for just gardening was associated with reporting better general health (OR 1.56, 1.26-1.95) and with meeting physical activity guidelines (OR 1.24, CI 1.02-1.51).

Owning a private garden was associated with higher evaluative wellbeing than having no garden (OR 1.22, CI 1.02-1.47). Those who had access to a private outdoor space were more likely to meet physical activity guidelines (OR 1.54, 1.15-2.05).

We controlled for many of the other factors that could have accounted for the differences in people’s health: IMD, gender, age, occupation, employment, marital status, children, home ownership, and presence of dogs in household.

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