Study shows that allotment gardening improves health and wellbeing

Allotment gardening has a positive impact on health and wellbeing – especially for people with mental or physical health problems, according to a study by Plymouth University. 

PhD student Chris Genter worked with Dr Anne Roberts, Associate Professor in Occupational Therapy; Professor Janet Richardson, Professor of Health Service Research; and Dr Mike Sheaff, Associate Professor in Sociology, to carry out a systematic review of the effect of allotment gardening on health and wellbeing, and investigate the widely-accepted notion that the pastime was good for health.

Following thematic analysis of mainly qualitative research papers, the five main conclusions they found were that allotment gardening provides a stress-relieving refuge; it contributes to a healthier lifestyle; creates social opportunities; provides valued contact with nature; and enables self-development. 

The paper, entitled 'The contribution of allotment gardening to health and wellbeing: A systematic review of the literature', is the first of its kind to fully address not only whether allotment gardening is good for health, but also why.

Dr Roberts explained why the findings are so significant.

“From this thorough and systematic review of published evidence, people with health problems can be confidently recommended allotment gardening as an occupational therapy intervention,” she said.

“All of the papers addressed allotment gardening as a group activity, and it was certainly a recurrent theme that the allotment environment encourages social connection through individuals sharing thoughts, skills, produce and time, as well being somewhere relaxing that contributes to stress reduction.

“In terms of how it affected people physically, active gardening on the allotment provided opportunities to be in fresh air, access to fresh vegetables and engagement in meaningful work, which contributed to improved physical and mental health and a general sense of wellbeing. It is therefore recommended as occupational therapy for people with health problems, and as a health promoting occupation for the general population.

"However, current research particularly focused on the impact of group and therapeutic allotment gardening, so further investigations are recommended to explore the full health-promoting influences of everyday allotment gardening for individuals.”

The full paper is available to view in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy