Gardening Therapy Helps Women on Long-term Sick Leave

Women are at greater risk of becoming chronically ill and going on long-term sick leave, which can have financial as well as physical and mental health ramifications. Thus far, adequate rehabilitation programs have been lacking because there hasn’t been much research investigating effective techniques for getting women back on their feet and into the workforce.

During the years 2010 and 2011 the Swedish government allotted special funds to four projects to help address sick leave among women. Researchers at Sahlgrenska University discovered that gardening therapy in conjunction with job coaching may help improve quality of life for women on long-term sick leave.

Researcher Eva Lidén at Sahlgrenska Academy reports: “A combination of garden therapy and coaching strengthened the participants’ physical and mental health, and led to the women reporting improved vitality and social capabilities. Therefore, we conclude that this model should be considered during rehabilitation of certain women on long-term sick leave.”

How Gardening Therapy Helped 

The study examined women between the ages of 21 and 62 who had been on government financial support for at least 1 year and up to 10 years. At the start of the project, researchers tested the women’s quality of life and found that they had a significantly low level when compared to women of the same age in the same population. Mental and social factors measured even lower. For perspective, the normal index value is 50, and women in the study exhibited an index value of 19, which is extremely low according to researchers.

For 14 weeks, the women went to a Green Rehab Garden 2-4 half days each week. Here they worked with rehabilitation specialists on mental exercises, reflective therapy, physical activities, and gardening. They were also assigned a job coach who worked with them for as long as needed to initiate and support job searches. After 14 weeks, the women experienced increased quality of life and improvement in physical and mental health.

Gardening Therapy in Review

Gardening therapy can range from working in a garden—digging, watering, and pruning—to simply spending time surrounded by nature. Research has shown that gardening therapy can help lower stress, anxiety, and depression and help speed up recovery in a variety of clinical settings.

You don’t have to necessarily get dirty. A 2012 study published in Journal Psychiatry Investigation showed that simply walking around in nature helped decrease pain, reduce the need for medications, improve attention span and sleep quality, and ease agitation.