Portrait of Anne Wareham reading copyright Charles Hawes

Blimey, this was a while ago! Me, reading one of those paper things we used to get.  Keeping my brain healthy?

I’m a lazy sort, and I like to take a couple of days off every week doing nothing in particular: mostly reading.

But not long ago I realized that those days off weren’t quite off. I was spending a lot of time doing the brain work that making a garden requires. I would find myself worrying about a part of the garden which was not quite working and then begin to research a plant which might give it a lift at the right time of year. Searching through books, or online. Or I would wonder why something in the garden was not doing well and begin to try to find out. I might find myself researching insects which are chomping at some foliage. Or wonder what that butterfly I just caught sight of was. All this can take me down many fascinating paths, whereby I learn a lot more about gardening. It might not be quite what I intended on my ‘day off’.

Pots with failed plants copyright Anne Wareham

Something badly wrong here. Needs some thought and probably some research: what happened?!

Then I recently discovered that gardening is good for your brain.

Ah! And no, this is not another thing about how good exercise is for you. Nor that gardening benefits your mental elf. It appears that research over nearly a century by the University of Edinburgh, published in Science Direct, found that people who spent time gardening have better brain function in later life. And that this benefit persists after the researchers adjusted “for education, occupational social class, health, and importantly, overall physical activity.”

Children born in and nearby Edinburgh in 1921 sat an intelligence test when aged eleven to measure their reasoning and arithmetic ability. Hundreds of them were then traced in later life and took exactly the same test when 79.They also gave details of their lifestyles and then completed frequent assessments of their brain health up to the age of 90.

The 280 gardeners retained their brain power, but 187 who rarely or never gardened scored worse than they had as children.

Sad to say, this discovery then gets a lot of nonsense offered as explanation. You may be able to read some of this nonsense here.

“Engaging in gardening projects, learning about plants and general garden upkeep involves complex cognitive processes such as memory and executive function,” says Dr Corley. Well, that is fair enough, and echoes my activity on my days off.

But then you get stuff like “pulling up weeds boosts brain health, because building up muscles dampens down inflammation”. And let’s face it, not all of us bother to pull up weeds. I tend to pull only if it will require no muscle effort to speak of.

Little weed at Veddw Garden

I can just about manage one of these.

And I would put a lot of money on a bet that no-one counted how many weeds those gardeners in the research project pulled. The truth has to be that no-one really knows what it might be about gardening that is good for your brain, because there is no way that that was part of the research.

Well, my guess (only a guess) is the sheer amount of problem solving:

Problem solving in relation to design; plants; weather; checking out silly stories in the media about loving slugs; indeed deciding whether to love your pests or slaughter them; trying to find out where to get the plants you’d like; trying to work out how to afford them, what to do about the awful weather…

I have been unable to access the original research report, which is behind a paywall. But it has to be impossible to prove what aspect of gardening is good for the brain without experiments which defy credibility.

So garden however you like and glow in the knowledge that somehow it’s doing you good.

Charles Hawes gardening at Veddw Garden copyright Anne Wareham

Definitely doing his brain good?

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