NMU Student Researches Impacts of Gardening

Thursday 16, 2017

A Northern Michigan University graduate student this week successfully defended her thesis research that offers support for the benefits of horticultural intervention. Rachel Ochylski of Grosse Pointe found that gardening increased social engagement and reduced self-reported indicators of depression among older adults living in a long-term care facility. It also reduced stress indicators, such as blood pressure and heart rate, among NMU students. Based on their potential to positively impact mental, physical and social well-being, holistic interventions like gardening workshops should be considered in long-term care facilities and educational institutions, she concluded.

As manager of the NMU Hoop House, Ochylski said she realized that gardening helped her focus on tasks and “facilitated mindfulness.” Hoping to help others realize similar benefits, she wanted to do a research project that would offer quantifiable support for the value of horticultural intervention. Prior to that, most studies were qualitative in nature.

Ochylski’s research related to older adults took place at a local long-term care facility. Over 15 weeks, she monitored how many positive social interactions participants engaged in during designated social hours. She also had participants rate their feelings through a positive and negative emotional affect scale. Ochylski collected attendance records from social hours and the greenhouse at all times, including during gardening workshops she offered. 

She found an increase in positive social interactions and a statistically significant decrease in negative affect. There was a robust change in greenhouse attendance, with up to 30 participating in gardening workshops.

“Older adults are at high risk of depression due to bereavement and cognitive disabilities,” said Ochylski. “Depression often worsens medical problems. I noticed they were in need of meaningful activity to engage in, as most people were often watching TV. I was excited about getting out and doing work in the greenhouse. There’s reports of horticultural intervention helping depression and stress.”

Ochylski was introduced to the greenhouse at the D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans by a member of Transition Marquette County, a gardening group. Her gardening workshops were aimed at re-greening the formerly barren greenhouse for the future enjoyment and use of Jacobetti residents.

For the second area of her study, Ochylski recorded vital signs of college students before and after 30 minutes of horticultural intervention in the NMU greenhouse. These included blood pressure, temperature, respiration rate, pulse and self-reported pain. One notable finding was that the systolic blood pressure measure decreased by an average 8.47 mmHg after gardening. Higher blood pressure increases the risk of hypertension, which leads to coronary heart disease.

Ochylski said that her experience at the Hoop House and her research influenced her future career goals.

“This study provided a framework for future investigators interested in people-plant interactions.  I hope to find a doctoral program that focuses on people-plant interactions and maybe look at more direct measures of depression and biochemical indexes, like serotonin, epinephrine and cortisol.”

Ochylski will graduate with a Master of Science in integrated biosciences in December.

Jill Vermeulen
Student Writer