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Health Is Where Your Plants Are

Illustration by: Eleonora Arosio

3 million peopleworldwide move to the city every week, permeating urban lives with multisensory stress, food shortage and social disconnect. Urban gardens are a surprising antidote and are estimated to not only produceone fifth of the world’s food, but also reduce depression and high blood pressure prevalence by 7% and 9%, respectively.

More than one out of every ten peoplein the world is starving. Hyper-local farming has the potential to significantly reduce global food shortage, and its influence reaches far beyond physical health needs. Gardening shortens the food supply chain and increases access to healthy food. Some restaurants go as far as growing the food in indoorgardensjust a few feet from your plate and breathing new meaning into what it means to source locally.

Surprisingly, a home garden can also fulfil the fundamental needs to belong and feel safe, which when unmet, cause low mood and sometimes more serious mental health conditions. Home-grown food also reduces symptoms of depression, possibly due to the sheer number of nutrients present, although the exact mechanism of action is still unknown. Fresh, ripe and colorful food activates your digestive tractand you will receive the full nutritional value of what’s on your plate. So the next time you feel the Sunday night blues coming on, grab a spinach leaf or two and track how quickly you regain positivity.

Nature in general, and house plants for the urbanites, has a restorative effect on the body’s stress responseand results in a feeling of relaxation and peacefulness. Ever noticed how frustrated, irritable and just plain angry you can get at all the people talking on the bus or those rushing past and into you in the street? You arrive home fuming and ready to break things, a state which plants can relieve. Natural environments trigger your visual systemto find food, water and shelter, without which you simply feel unsafe. Most urban environments lack such triggers and the addition of urban indoor gardens and greenery satisfies your most fundamental needs. So come home, say hi to your plants and wait for your teeth to stop grinding and muscles to unclench.

Indoor gardens relieve stress, nourish the body and can also alleviate feelings of loneliness, a serious public health concern. A plant gives the opportunity to care for someone, an instant antidote to loneliness. Regardless of whether you water your plants yourself or your smart garden does it for you, seeing plants grow is a source of connection akin to socialising. No wonder then, that so many are drawn to conversing with plants.

Modern medicine has kept you in a state of mind-body duality since Descartes, promoting the compartmentalization of your physical, mental and social well-being. With the rise of urban and indoor farming, humanity seems to be entering a new era of understanding health. The interconnectedness of the mind and body is wrapped in the vine of your tomato plant, greeting you home, feeding you and helping put your feet up at the end of a long work day.

 

Author Bio: Dr Voolma is a human behavior researcher, public health expert and a global citizen. She has a PhD in behavioral science from the University of Cambridge and is currently affiliated with the National University of Singapore, University of Tartu (Estonia), University of Geneva (Switzerland) and Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge. Silja dreams of building a world where every person has the freedom to be who they want to be and live a life they designed for themselves. She is the co-founder of an interdisciplinary think tank, Launchfield, which aims to realize this dream.


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