Since ancient times, spending time in nature has been therapeutic. In fact, the use of horticulture for therapeutic purposes dates to 2000 BC! It’s no surprise then, that so many people enjoy spending time outside, digging in the dirt. Seniors, in particular, can benefit from gardening. Here are a few of the many benefits:
Five cognitive benefits of gardening for seniors
- Mental stimulation. The simple act of gardening draws you into the present and into your physical environment. It requires planning and problem solving, which help create new neural connections, keeping the brain active and agile.
- Increases blood flow to the brain. Did you know that gardening packs such a cognitive wallop that it can lower your risk of developing dementia? It’s true! An Australian study found that gardening decreases your risk of dementia by 36%. Researchers point to increased hand/eye coordination and sensory engagement.
- Higher serotonin levels. Talk to folks who garden regularly, and most will tell you that digging in the dirt relieves their stress and improves their mood. In fact, gardening has been associated with increases in serotonin, the “feel good hormone.”
- Reduces anxiety. The peaceful sights, sounds and scents of a garden promote relaxation and can relieve anxiety. In fact, studies suggest that gardening lowers levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
- Restores and improves memory and attention. For those suffering from dementia, spending time in nature can actual defend against further memory loss. Perhaps this is because the sights, smells and sounds of nature do not change over time. The simple act of spending time in nature can bring a sense of familiarity when things seem ever-changing or confusing.
More Health Benefits From Gardening
Pain reduction. Keeping busy in the garden can keep your mind off your physical aches and pains. Studies show that patients in hospitals who can see trees outside go home sooner and experience lower levels of pain than those who can only see a wall.
Improves your sleep. Sleep is hugely influenced by our natural circadian rhythm. The body needs a certain amount of exposure to daylight to regulate its physical response, “reset” its internal clock and stay “on time.” Getting outside and getting a bit of fresh air is a great way to regulate your body clock.
Lowers the need for medication. Did you know that working in gardens and spending time in nature can reduce your need for certain medications and help reduce your number of falls? It’s true!
Keeps us connected. Gardening reminds us that we are not the center of the universe. Self-absorption can contribute to depression. Focusing on plants and the great outdoors – even if it’s through a patio or shared community garden – encourages seniors to get out of their shells.
It’s great exercise. Weeding, twisting, bending, squatting…it all gets your body moving. And even less-intense gardening tasks can help you burn up to 300 calories per hour. When you’re lifting, tilling and raking, you’re increasing muscle tone and strengthening with low-impact exercise.
Encourages healthy eating. Harvesting a crop of food or herbs is a tasty reward for your hard work – and it’s a great reminder to eat healthy, too!
Gardening Without Pain
Even with all these potential benefits, some seniors may shy away from gardening because of concerns about accessibility, weather, safety, and physical pain. But even seniors on bed rest or living in very cold climates can tend a houseplant on the windowsill or a miniature container garden.
Even seniors in wheelchairs can participate in gardening. Many independent living communities offer raised bed gardens and low-hanging baskets so that residents in wheelchairs can garden. Arthritic hands? There are many ergonomic tools available to help.
Many independent living communities offer shared community gardens, which allow residents to nurture living things as well as grow their social network. Many share the fruits of their labor with the community chef, adding fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables to the residents’ menu. Rather than staying home and focusing on yourself, why not care for a community garden? It’s a great way to meet people and expand your horizons.
If the thought of squatting intimidates you, consider vertical gardening. It’s an excellent way to garden without having to squat or be in any uncomfortable position. By utilizing a trellis, you can grow some of your favorite vegetables and plants without worrying about pain.
With a few adaptations, most seniors can participate in gardening therapy like planting, pruning, weeding and watering. So get gardening so you can reap the health benefits – and the tasty rewards!
Senior Gardening Tools
So clearly gardening is very therapeutic. Still have concerns about aches and pains? Consider trying the following tools when planning your next senior gardening project:
- Gloves and hand tools. Try to protect your hands with gloves and use ergonomic tools when possible. Bionic gardening gloves offer extra comfort and grip for seniors with arthritis.
- Back and knee savers. Avoid spending too much time stopped over on your knees. Consider padding and products such as the Deep-Seat Garden Kneeler or household stools and chairs (with four legs) to help prevent back and knee strain.
- Watering supplies. Think about lightweight watering tools. Watering should not require heavy lifting. Featherweight coil hoses are easy to move and store when not in use.
- Buckets and carts. Prevent muscle strain and overexertion with smart carts. The lightweight Garden Works Presto Bucket and the Poly-Tough Cart allow seniors to transport potting soil and bulbs without heavy lifting.
- Weed wisely. The No-bend Stand-up Weed Grabber allows seniors to remove weeds without straining .
- Accessories. Products like the Deluxe Tractor Scoot provide a place to comfortably sit while gardening, and also offer tool storage to keep your gadgets in one convenient location.
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