Why this “dirty” hobby could help you live to 100

Gardening is good for you.

But, why are we talking about gardening in the dead of winter?

Because even now, when the ground is cold and hard in most places, the benefits of gardening can be yours.

Growing your own fresh produce, free of the taint of pesticides or other contaminants, is considered an activity that could help head off Alzheimer’s disease and depression and boost the immune system.

And, on top of that, it now seems that if you want to live to be 100, you should definitely put on those gardening gloves.

People who garden live longer

The Greek Island of Ikaria is a place where many people live to be 100 and beyond. The island is one of five “blue zones” around the world with exceptional longevity.

Experts have found that people in these places do have some things in common: a plant-based diet, a good social support network, and daily exercise.

And, they garden. Well into their 80s and 90s, these people are planting, pruning and fertilizing.

Not surprisingly, several studies have highlighted the connection between a green thumb and long life…

  • A Dutch study found that 30 minutes of gardening restored a good mood after a stressful task, while 30 minutes of reading actually caused mood to get worse.
  • Australian researchers who followed men and women in their 60s found that those who gardened regularly had a 36% lower risk of dementia than those who didn’t.
  • And, residents of the Japanese island of Okinawa, which has the highest ratio of people reaching 100 (50 per 100,000 people), value the concept of yuuimaru, or connectedness, which they practice through gardening together. So it’s no surprise that 82 percent of the traditional Okinawan diet is plant-based.

Dirt can make you happier and healthier

When you were a child, I’m sure your mother would have been horrified to find you out in the garden, eating dirt.

But there’s research telling us that encountering a little dirt along with our produce is not only harmless, it can also actually make us healthier.

In 2004, British oncologist Mary O’Brien injected lung cancer patients with a common, harmless soil bacterium, Mycobacterium vaccae. Her hope was that it would help them fight off their advanced cancer. It didn’t.

But she did notice that her patients were significantly happier, expressed more vitality, and showed better cognitive functioning. In other words, it improved their quality of life in the face of advancing cancer.

A few years later, a British neuroscientist injected the same bacterium into mice and put them through a stress test. The bacterium “lit up” neurons in the mouse brains that produced serotonin, our “feel-good” neurotransmitter, as well as neurons controlling their immune system.

And just this month, Scottish researchers identified a new strain of bacteria in their native soil that kills four different strains of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

So, if you pull up a home-grown veggie fresh from the ground, you shouldn’t fear giving it a brush and snacking on some raw goodness. Of course, that’s not something you’d want to do with the produce found at the grocery store. Besides herbicides or insecticide concerns, runoff from industrial farms is polluted with animal waste, antibiotics, hormones, and resistant bacteria.

Growing veggies indoors this winter

Some vegetables are better than others for indoor growing. You want things that don’t have a big “footprint” or require a lot of space.

A sunny windowsill or kitchen is fine, but bear in mind that winter sunlight is unpredictable, and lasts for fewer hours. For as little as $20.00, you can invest in some “grow lights” that will keep your plants happy.

Carrots, arugula, lettuce, and kale can grow well in an indoor container. So can basil and other herbs.

Microgreens are simply vegetable plants that you’ve sprouted from seeds. They are larger than sprouts but smaller than the leafy plant. Seeds can be purchased for individual vegetables like kale, radish, Swiss chard, cabbage, broccoli, beets, and others, individually or in a mix.

All you need is a plastic tray and some soil. Place your seeds between two layers of soil, and keep them damp. They will be ready in a week or two, depending on what you’ve planted.

Like sprouts, microgreens are far more nutritious than full-grown leafy plants. Growing these small versions of the “real thing” is a great way to exercise your green thumb this winter and stay healthy!

Editor’s note: Did you know diabetes increases your risk of heart disease and stroke? In fact, it can set you up for cancer and Alzheimer’s too. It has to do with your master hormone’s role in helping to disease proof your body. Click here to learn more


  1. Gardening could be the hobby that helps you live to 100— BBC Capital
  2. Dirt has a microbiome, and it may double as an antidepressant — Quartz
  3. Gardening promotes neuroendocrine and effective restoration from stressJournal of Health Psychology
  4. How to Grow Microgreens — Garden Answer/YouTube


Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.