Gardening is one of the great American pastimes. One in four households have a garden, and more people are putting on their gardening gloves every year. The reasons are many, from carrying on a family tradition to wanting to get out of the house and get back to nature. Whatever your reason for gardening, the health benefits of gardening for seniors may surprise you. Here are just some of the ways tending a garden can help you thrive too.
1. Keeps You Active
Gardening is surprisingly good exercise. A study conducted by the American Society for Horticultural Science found that 30 minutes of gardening fulfills all daily physical activity recommendations for seniors. By doing one hour of light gardening, you can burn about 330 calories — more than walking at a moderate pace for the same amount of time.
Gardening is also good for your heart. A Swedish study of 4,000 seniors found that regular gardening cut the risk of heart attack or stroke by up to 30%. Like any exercise program, go easy at first so you don’t strain yourself. Digging, lifting, hauling and harvesting will work muscles you forgot you had. You might wake up stiff and sore after a strenuous day in the garden, but you’ll sleep like a baby. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania reported that people who garden are more likely to get a solid 7 hours of sleep each night.
2. Lowers Stress Levels
Gardening is a great way to relieve stress. It gives your mind something to focus on apart from what’s bothering you — even if that’s just the nightly news or snark on social media.
A Dutch study asked participants to perform a stressful task and then asked them to either garden for 30 minutes in their community garden or read for 30 minutes. The gardening group reported better moods and had lower levels of cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone. Chronically elevated cortisol levels have been linked to everything from poor immune function and obesity to memory problems and heart disease.
3. Improves Immune System
We know that children exposed to dirt develop stronger immune systems than children whose parents keep them squeaky clean. The same principle is at work in the garden. Mycobacterium vaccae, a bacteria found in garden soil, helps fight off colds and flu, and alleviates symptoms of allergies, asthma and psoriasis.
Gardening also exposes your body to sunlight, which benefits your immune system by increasing vitamin D levels. Vitamin D also helps build strong bones, another health benefit of gardening for seniors.
4. Reduces Risk of Dementia
Exercising your green thumb may be good for your gray matter. In a long-term study in Australia, daily gardening reduced the risk of dementia in older adults by 36%. The study included almost 3,000 seniors and measured their cognitive function over 16 years.
Another study found gardening, among other leisure activities, may prevent brain shrinkage in older adults. It’s thought that the combination of physical activity, sensory stimulation and problem-solving contribute to gardening’s beneficial effect on brain health.
5. Puts Fresh Food on the Table
Few things taste better than a vine-ripened tomato or a plump red strawberry you’ve picked from your garden. Whether you have a few pots on the patio for tomatoes and peas, or raised beds with rows of colorful fruits and vegetables, you know the food you’ve grown is fresh, clean and flavorful. You can taste the difference.
6. Provides a Source of Community
You don’t have to garden alone. There’s a social side to gardening you can find at a community garden. You can meet new people, collaborate on projects, and make a difference in your local community. Plus, it’s a great way to pick up tips and make new friends. If you’re feeling isolated or want some company, check out your nearest community garden.
See How Our Garden Grows
Our Pea Patch program offers residents personal gardening space. The Pea Patchers love sharing the fruits of their labors with other residents and local food banks. But our Pea Patch is just one example of many opportunities residents of our independent living community have to pursue their passions. To learn more about them, get in touch. And discover why Timber Ridge is such fertile ground for a healthy lifestyle.