When nature comes back to life in the spring, you’re drawn to the outdoors. Gardens are visually pleasing and they come with many benefits. Senior gardening can have a positive impact on your health while providing a fun way to spend your time. It’s a purposeful hobby that creates a gorgeous yard and shows the progress of hard work over time.
For any person, gardening can be a healthy and stimulating activity to enjoy. It stimulates your body since it increases the hours you spend being active and helps you maintain mobility and flexibility. It’s also good for the mind! Even if you have limitations, equipment and tools can be modified to help you garden successfully.
Here are five benefits of gardening for older adults.
1. Physiological benefits of gardening for the elderly
One of the most significant ways gardening can benefit you as you get older is by relieving stress and anxiety. Cortisol is the stress hormone, causing blood pressure and glucose levels to fluctuate. Natural environments let you zone into what you’re doing and get distracted from life’s daily hassles. Being in a garden alone can provide you with feelings of restoration and relaxation.
Gardening can do wonders for your mood. Fresh air and sunshine cause the body to produce vitamin D and boost serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is a chemical your body has to improve your mood and help you feel calm. But remember to use sunscreen when you’re outside. The sun has its benefits, but you still need to protect yourself from harmful UV rays and sunburn.
In some cases, gardens are like therapy for seniors. Get ready to reminisce — being in the garden triggers memories of childhood moments. Touching or seeing a specific plant can transport you to your childhood or other points in life. The reflections allow you to see self-continuity as you are replicating experiences.
A therapeutic effect of gardening for seniors happens when older adults take opportunities to connect with nature and nurture the environment. It gives you responsibility and purpose as you care for plants and encourages you to be creative in planning and designing. You learn more about what plants go well together and increase cognitive simulation while figuring out how to grow and care for each plant.
2. Physical gardening benefits for seniors
Physical activity is a necessity for people of all ages, but it can be challenging for some older adults if it’s too intense or demanding. Since gardening requires frequent attention, starting a garden ensures low-intensity movement each day while spending time in sunlight and fresh air. Even light exercise can slow the aging process.
Adding stretches before and after you spend time among your plants is an excellent way for older individuals to stay active, especially if you suffer from a minimal range of motion and overall functions in critical areas like your shoulder. Warming up the body with stretching increases blood flow and allows nutrients to fight inflammation in the right areas. Stretches like reaching behind the back and across the body will help improve flexibility.
Mobility and strength can become limited with age as you can lose 4-6 pounds of muscle per decade, but elderly gardening can prevent decline and even increase strength gradually. Keeping muscles engaged while gardening is a productive way to rebuild strength and mobility without strenuous activity. Remember that the activity shouldn’t cause pain while performing. Gardening can also reduce the risk of some cancers, type 2 diabetes, depression, heart disease, and osteoporosis.
3. Social benefits of gardening
People who see friends daily at the age of 60 are 12% less likely to develop dementia compared to others who only see friends a few times a month. There are gardening groups for older adults that connect you with like-minded people while reaping the benefits of connecting to nature and others.
Group membership becomes important because as you age, connecting with others allows you to obtain social support to fight loneliness and isolation. Having a social network can provide a sense of purpose and support. Talking to people who enjoy the same activity as you can also help inspire new things for your lawn and garden.
Gardening group memberships can open doors for an enhanced sense of achievement, especially when collaborating with others. Group gardening activities can build a social group and community by providing a physical location to meet and interact face-to-face.
4. Positive aging
Positive aging is more about a physiological mindset that allows you to maintain well-being in later life despite declining other functions. Having a positive attitude is the first step to positive aging. Engaging in activity despite the age-related decline of physical functioning increases your well-being. A purposeful activity like gardening provides an outlet to increase mental stimulation, creativity, and self-esteem.
Gardening for older people is productive and gratifying and is linked to a basic love for nature and benefiting from the therapeutic properties of natural environments. Maintaining a form of consistent gardening will help the aging process by promoting life-long positive well-being.
5. Improves immune system
Gardening can be a bit messy since digging in the dirt, but little dirt won’t harm you and can have benefits. Some of the bacteria that are found in garden soil can improve your immune system. It is a good bacteria that can alleviate symptoms of various things like depression, allergies, asthma, and psoriasis.
Working in a garden is known to reduce stress. Your body is better at fighting infections and viruses when it’s not dealing with emotional and psychological stress. By gardening, you will reduce stress and get vitamin D which is another way to drive your immune system. Vitamin D produces antimicrobial proteins that kill viruses and bacteria.
Lastly, getting into physical activity will improve your sleep. Sleep is essential for your immune system to function correctly. Light activities like gardening can tire you out and promote a good night’s sleep for a fully functioning immune system.
Safe gardening tips
Senior gardening has a few physical and age-related concerns to consider, but they shouldn’t prevent people from enjoying the benefits of gardening. The aspects to keep in mind include:
- Skin: Your skin may be more fragile and thin, making you more susceptible to sunburn or bruising.
- Vision: Poor eyesight can restrict an activity if peripheral vision is lost.
- Body temperature: You may be at risk of heat exhaustion due to susceptibility to temperature changes.
- Skeletal: Osteoporosis and arthritis can restrict movement and flexibility. Falls can occur since your balance is not as good.
One of the best things about gardening is that it can be modified for everyone. While gardening can have some risks, there are things you can do to prepare and keep the garden as safe as possible. Here are some suggestions to modify your gardening routine so it’s easier and safer.
1. Raise beds or use potted plants
Raising beds or potted plants can help prevent strain on the back and avoid feelings of dizziness. Since they are off the ground, it makes them more accessible at waist level so you can move freely without the risk of straining muscles or falling in case you have to get on and off the ground. You can also try vertical planting to make the garden beds accessible for planting using wall space.
2. Switch out traditional tools
Gardening tools and buckets can feel heavier as you age. Switch them for a lighter-weight item to ease physical stress. Retractable hanging baskets, wheelbarrows, and containers on castors are efficient for movable and elevated gardens. Foam, tape, and plastic tubing can modify existing tools for a better grip, but sometimes it is best to switch it out for lightweight tools that are easier to handle.
3. Stay protected from the sun
It is best to skip gardening during the hottest part of the day. You should wear sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses while working outside. You can even put up an umbrella to shade you while you’re out there. Bring a water bottle to stay hydrated while working in the heat.
4. Have seating
Having somewhere to sit in the garden makes you and your guests more comfortable and inviting. You should sit back and relax in the beautiful garden you created. It is also essential since you may feel dizzy or overheated from working too hard. Having seating available nearby gives you a quick escape to relax.
Along with these tips, remember to take additional precautions such as:
- Attend to cuts, bruises, and bug bits immediately
- Be careful while using power tools
- Secure gates and fences if memory loss is present
- Warm up and take frequent breaks
- Avoid alcohol
- Store garden equipment safely
- Reapply sunscreen and use gardening gloves
Start your garden today!
If you want to spend more time outdoors, take up gardening as a hobby. Not only will it fill your time, but it will provide many benefits to your physical, mental, and emotional health. Don’t forget to take safe steps to ensure you stay happy and healthy while indulging in your new fulfilling hobby.
Mia Barnes is a writer and researcher with over 3 years of experience covering nutrition, wellness, and health-related topics. Mia is also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Body+Mind Magazine, an online healthy living publication.