In this season of seeds, produce and beautiful blooms, encouraging seniors to get their hands in the dirt can reap a rich harvest.
Sure, gardening offers numerous “obvious” benefits for the age group; consider hand strength, flexibility and the opportunity to take in some fresh air. But a number of other advantages may not be so readily apparent.
Researchers at Kansas State University, for example, found that gardening could offer enough moderate physical activity to keep older adults in shape. In addition, added Candice Shoemaker, now department head of Horticulture, Forestry and Recreation Resources at the school, “If we had a larger sample I think we would see more health differences between those who garden and those who don’t, including in areas like sleep quality and life satisfaction.”
- Gardening can provide an intergenerational activity, allowing seniors to share knowledge and teach others in addition to learning themselves.
- Learning and growing in expertise helps keep the mind active.
- Gardens can help reduce food insecurity.
- Discovering a sense of control over one’s environment can lead to a higher quality of life—especially when so many other factors can’t be controlled.
- Gardening can provide social interaction, as well as offer teamwork opportunities toward a shared goal.
- Seeds grow to flowers, vegetables and other clear results of time and effort invested.
- Developing plants offer seniors something to look forward to.
- Access to nature can reduce blood pressure, improve recovery times and reduce stress.
- Gardens are increasingly being recognized for their ability to stimulate the senses, reduce pain perception, improve attention and even aid those with dementia.
“There’s a lot of natural motivation in gardening,” Shoemaker said. “For one thing, you know there’s a plant you’ve got to go out and water and weed to keep alive. If we get the message out there that older adults can get health benefits from gardening, they’ll realize that they don’t have to walk around the mall to get exercise.”
“Gardening—Benefits for Elderly” by Angela O’Callaghan, Ph.D., Area Specialist, Social Horticulture, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension: http://ucanr.org/sites/camg2011/files/101993.pdf
“Besides Offering Moderate Physical Activity, Gardening Gives Older Adults Benefits Like Hand Strength And Self Esteem, Say K-State Researchers,” Kansas State University: http://www.k-state.edu/media/newsreleases/feb09/gardening20309.html
“What Is the Evidence to Support the Use of Therapeutic Gardens for the Elderly?”: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3372556/