From the A Year of Healthy Living 2015 wall calendar by Ann Lovejoy — Gardeners often seem to be happy people, and now we know why. Recent research indicates that getting our hands “dirty” gives our brains a boost of serotonin. Mycobacterium vaccae is a soil dweller that offers humans who dabble in dirt a lovely lift. Like so many health advances, the first recognition of mood elevating effects from M. vaccae came about accidentally, when a dose intended to boost immune response serendipitously created an antidepressant effect in advanced cancer patients.
It turns out that the serotonin boost, which increases happiness and decreases anxiety, can be achieved simply by gardening. M. vaccae enters our bodies as we breathe, so even those who stand by as others actively garden may benefit. Inhaling M. vaccae may be responsible for our feelings of well-being when we hike in natural settings. However, the effects seem to be temporary, lasting less than three weeks. To get the most from the magic, get into the garden as often as possible. Even a weekly dose can keep the natural high going, and a daily dose of gardening will help keep you smiling.
Being hands-on also contributes to our well-being. Gardening, knitting, and similar handwork triggers an “effort-driven rewards circuit” in our brains, producing brain chemicals that help relieve depression and anxiety.
With more than 20 books to her credit, award-winning author Ann Lovejoy is one of the country’s leading experts on sustainable garden design and techniques. A popular cooking and gardening columnist for numerous national and regional publications, Lovejoy is fully committed to sustainable agriculture and is active in many community projects. For more information, please visit her blog.