Open Voices Blog

News and conversations about the growing evidence of the healing power of nature and green development in cities

Take a Mental Break, Eat Your Veggies, and Other Sage Advice

Posted on 05/30/17


At Nature Sacred, we keep a close eye on the academic research being published around nature, health, and wellbeing. Via Research Shorts, each month we take what we see as some of the most interesting work being published and create a brief summary for our readers — enabling you to be in the know, even if you’re short on time.


A Brief Summary of the Research

Community gardens provide urban dwellers with the most direct nature interaction. In the U.K., there are estimated to be ~330,000 garden plots, 190,000 in Japan, and nearly a million in the United States. Most of these are in urban environments. Research indicates that community gardens deliver various physical and mental health benefits. Researcher Masashi Soga and colleagues take this a step further, proposing that gardening counters the ongoing loss of human-nature interactions—what they call the “extinction of experience.”

Masashi Soga and colleagues recently published a companion piece to a meta-analysis. Their primary research compared subjective health among gardeners and non-gardeners in Tokyo. Although this project is not statistically or clinically robust as similar work, its value lies in contributing significantly to health outcome data among populations outside of North America and Europe (documented links between nature and health is lacking in Asia and the southern hemisphere). The research team reported general health improvements among the Japanese gardeners in this study and suggest funding and support of this public activity will contribute to healthy lifestyles and lower public health costs.

What you need to know:

  • Most nature and health research is in Europe and North America, but this one is in the middle of Tokyo. 
  • Gardeners reported better perceived general and mental health, less health complaints, and greater social cohesion. 
  • Gardeners ate more vegetables and drank more alcohol! They are having more fun, perhaps? 
  • “Taking a mental break” is a top motivator among gardeners. 
  • Gardening provides benefit even if only for a short duration and a few times a month. 

A word from one of the authors:

Our study provides robust evidence that gardening can simultaneously improve physical, psychological, and social health, which can, from a long-term perspective, alleviate and prevent various health issues facing today’s society (e.g. depression, obesity). We believe that gardening has great potential to provide an inexpensive intervention to assist in addressing many of these health issues.”– Masashi Soga, Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences, The University of Tokyo

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    We are a private nonprofit that supports, informs, and inspires the creation of publicly accessible urban green spaces. We believe that every city resident needs nearby green space to provide opportunities for mindfulness, respite, and renewal. The Foundation has issued its final grants to build five Open Spaces Sacred Places and research the impacts on a variety of users with the hope that the powerful connection between nature, spirit and human wellbeing will be scientifically proven.

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