Garden designer and landscape architect Russell Page once said that “green fingers are the extensions of a verdant heart.” And the experts agree. Gardening is a fantastic way for seniors to relieve stress, get physical exercise, and maintain a balanced diet.
Since it’s National Gardening Day, we gathered 6 health benefits of gardening in your senior years that support happier aging.
Gardening helps seniors reduces stress
Connecting with nature is an important part of seniors’ psychological health and wellbeing. In a study on the benefits of gardening for older adults published in the journal Ageing & Society, seniors were more likely to think of gardening as a form of therapy and an antidote to the stress of everyday life. Participants in the study reported:
- Better sleep: Having regular access to sunshine and fresh air helped regulate their circadian rhythms that control sleeping and eating patterns
- Less stress: Direct contact with nature gave them a sense of rejuvenation, inner peace, and reduced anxiety and stress
- Enhanced self-esteem: Gardening provided an opportunity for self-expression and self-sufficiency.
Gardening isn’t always easy (especially if you’ve left yours untended for a while). As you age, you may face garden tasks that are too strenuous to undertake. But there are other ways to support your green thumb, like gardening in raised beds and using ergonomically sound tools that are easier on the joints.
If you need a pair of extra hands, hiring senior companionship is a great option. From caregiving duties like arranging contractor visits, to getting their hands dirty by digging, pruning, and raking, companionship care can help you with bigger gardening work and keep you company in the sunshine.
Seniors who garden eat higher quality produce
Another positive outcome of spending time in the garden is the natural produce it delivers. Growing and harvesting fresh and organic fruit and vegetables, as well as herbs and eggs from chickens makes a mentally-enriching hobby even more appealing.
A big benefit for seniors is the self-sufficiency that gardening offers. No more last-minute grocery store trips when you’re out of herbs, or having to arrange expensive flower deliveries. The garden is a rich source of nourishment for seniors and an easy and low-cost way to access fruits, vegetables and herbs—the building blocks of a nutritious (and delicious) diet.
This is especially important for seniors, who are more likely to be on a tighter budget and are at greater risk of nutritional deficiencies.
Gardening gives seniors a vitamin D boost
You have more in common with your shrubbery than you think. Just like the plants in your garden, people need regular doses of sunlight to support their overall health and happier aging. The sun is your best source of Vitamin D. Sunlight provides 70 to 80% of the vitamin D your body needs and having an outdoor hobby like gardening will ensure you get enough of it.
For those who are unfamiliar, Vitamin D is created when your skin is exposed to UVB rays found in sunlight. But its real superpower is helping to build and maintain bone strength, while regulating the growth and development of other tissues in the body.
According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF), Vitamin D:
- Improves calcium absorption from food
- Supports the renewal and mineralization of bone
- Helps maintain strong muscles
On the other hand, a lack of Vitamin D can negatively impact a senior’s health. Bone loss, muscle function impairment and an increased risk of falls and fractures are all common side effects of Vitamin D deficiency. One bad fall can not only be debilitating for seniors but can impact their self-esteem and take away their independence.
How much time do you need to spend gardening in order to get benefits? While getting the right amount of Vitamin D depends on factors like age, skin type, and medical conditions, research says you should aim for 10 to 20 minutes of sun exposure a day.
Gardening provides seniors with gentle exercise
Gardening is a great excuse to get some much-needed aerobic exercise. Digging, pulling, lifting, and pruning works out your muscles and helps increase strength, stamina, and flexibility. Regular, moderate to heavy intensity gardening activity has been shown to significantly reduce risk of morbidity in seniors with cardiovascular disease.
You don’t even need to garden for an extended period of time to see the benefits. A meta-analysis study from the journal Preventive Medicine Reports shows that even gardening regularly in shorter bursts provides an instant and cumulative effect on health, helping to reduce depression and anxiety symptoms.
For seniors with lower mobility or issues, some garden planning will ensure you can stay active safely:
- Use fairweather foliage: Find plants that are easier to grow, tolerant of difficult conditions, and don’t require high maintenance
- Use raised beds: They provide more height for easy access and have enough room on all sides to reach the center
- Design thoughtfully: Make sure pathways are easy to navigate with a walker, cane, or wheelchair
- Rest regularly: Add stools or resting places around your garden and take regular breaks
Gardening is a hobby for seniors that creates purpose
As you age, it’s so important to stay engaged both physically and mentally. Studies have shown that seniors with meaningful hobbies feel happier and healthier while mentally stimulating activities may lower risks of cognitive diseases.
Whether done alone or with a caregiver, gardening is an activity that gives seniors purpose and can increase self-esteem, creativity and mental stimulation.
Why is gardening a creative and fulfilling outlet for seniors? There are a few reasons:
- Planning and design: Before picking up your gardening tools, you can spend time planning and designing what your ideal garden will look like.
- Responsibility and care: Gardening is an opportunity to nurture and the responsibility of caring for plants can give you increased satisfaction.
- Lifelong learning: Gardening provides mental stimulation, encouraging you to learn about new plants, herbs and letting you pick up new skills.
Gardening can help seniors make social connections
Community gardens provide vibrant and inclusive green spaces where people can grow their own fruits and vegetables and connect with other gardening enthusiasts.
They’re also a great option if you’re a senior who doesn’t have access to a garden or who is looking to make new social connections in your neighborhood. A study on inclusivity in community gardening carried out by the University of British Columbia found that the top three reasons for joining a community garden were:
- To share in the culture of gardening and build a sense of community (60%)
- Out of a desire for more or adequate space for gardening (46%)
- Out of a desire to grow their own fruits and vegetables (42%)
Communal gardening offers a space for social interaction, collaboration, and supports the psychological health and wellbeing of seniors who are socially isolated. It’s a great way to meet people with similar interests and swap gardening tips and tricks over friendly conversation.
Now that you know the health benefits of gardening for seniors, it’s time to get out there and smell the roses!
Nurse Next Door understands you may need help with certain activities like gardening. Learn more about our caregivers and companionship care services for seniors here.