Gardening: Get Started Now
It’s never too late to take up gardening. Not only will you reap the benefits of having fresh vegetables on your plate or colorful flowers and ornamental plants decorating your yard, but you may be prolonging your life.
Studies show that older adults can get as much physical activity planting seeds, pulling weeds, and doing other gardening tasks as older adults who take a moderate exercise class. What’s more, gardening doesn’t have to be hard; you can garden as little or as much as you want.
Dean Failor has been gardening since he was in his 20s, but now, at 72, he has made some changes in his gardening methods. The South Beach, Oregon, resident now plants broccoli, sugar snap peas, and other vegetables in raised beds rather than in long rows. Failor says it’s easier to weed this way.
Failor likes roses, too, but gardeners know that roses, while beautiful, are high-maintenance flowers. Failor says he now grows low-maintenance varieties that are more suitable to his climate. Why the changes? Failor says he is interested now in keeping the garden more manageable. “‘Easy-care’ is the watchword,” Failor says.
Whether you tend to a low-maintenance garden, like Failor, or manage a yard full of vegetables and flowers, gardening can reduce stress, strengthen muscles, and improve mood.
Besides providing physical exercise and helping to burn calories, gardening can lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease thanks to the critical-thinking skills and continual brain stimulation needed for the hobby.
Tips to Help You Get Started
While gardening is a great physical activity, not all seniors can handle the rigors of hoeing, raking, digging, and bending. The challenges of gardening are complicated by physical limitations due to aging. However, Barb Kreski, director of horticulture services at the Chicago Botanic Garden, recommends using helpful tools or changing how you go about doing your gardening tasks.
The Chicago Botanic Garden runs the Buehler Enabling Garden, which is designed for older adults and people with disabilities. Kreski said older adults can adapt some of the techniques and tools used at the Buehler Garden. For example, the Buehler Enabling Garden, for instance, has dwarf and low-maintenance trees and shrubs, levers on gates and faucets instead of knobs, and hanging baskets on pulleys that can be lowered so people can work on them.
Gardening experts recommend older adults with physical limitations can use tools, such as:
- Raised beds, large flower pots and planters, and other tools that help you avoid bending over
- Soaker hoses or drip-irrigation systems rather than water hoses that you have to drag around
- A garden cart to carry tools and supplies
Since gardening is typically done in the spring and summer months, gardening experts says seniors should:
- Tend the garden in mornings and evenings when the temperature is cooler
- Use sunscreen to prevent sunburn
- Wear a garden hat
- Wear a pair of good gloves that will stay on no matter the task
- Keep a first-aid kit nearby to take care of cuts, bruises, insect bites, and bee stings.
What’s more, remember to put gardening tools back in their proper place to keep from tripping over them and take special precautions when handling power tools.
Studies Confirm Gardening Benefits Seniors
Researchers have found that routine gardening benefits older adults as much as formal exercise, which seniors are less likely to do. For example, one study found that seniors who had a range of daily life activities, such as gardening, DIY projects, car maintenance, or picking blackberries, reduced their risk of stroke and heart attack, and prolonged their life by as much as 30 percent.
The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, tracked the cardiovascular health of a group of 4,000 60-year-olds in Stockholm, Sweden for 12 years. Study participants with the highest level of daily physical activity had a 27 percent lower risk of heart attack or stroke, and a 30 percent reduced risk of death from all causes, regardless of how much regular formal exercise they had.
Besides promoting physical health, another study found that gardening promotes “positive aging” by boosting seniors’ self-esteem and productivity, and increased social engagements. Researchers from the University of Queensland School of Psychology in Australia focused on 331 gardeners, aged 60 to 95 years old, who were members of a gardening group. In Australia, gardening groups are nonprofit organizations, and members meet on a regular basis, not just to tend to gardens, but to attend group discussions and educational seminars.
According to the study, published January 2020 in the SAGE Open Medicine journal, gardening group members said they socially interacted by exchanging stories or pictures of gardens and plant cuttings and visiting other gardens and community garden events.
Gardening can also stimulate memories in people with dementia, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association. A research team at the University of Exeter Medical School reviewed a range of studies on the impact of gardening on people with dementia. The team found that gardening promoted relaxation, reduced agitation in people, and encouraged activity.
Older adults also say that being in a garden relaxes them and provides a distraction from daily hassles. So, if you want to improve your psychological well-being while supplementing your meals with fresh produce grown in your own yard, then gardening may be the right hobby for you.