According to Dee McGuire, a horticultural therapist at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital in Baltimore, spending time outdoors is restorative for seniors – even if they have dementia.
And indeed, for many older adults, there’s nothing they’d rather do than dig in the dirt and tend to their plants. Most of them do it solely for the pleasure of nurturing a living thing and helping it thrive. Growing the perfect tomato or pruning a beautiful rose bush can bring immense satisfaction.
As it turns out, however, horticulture is more than just a feel-good hobby. It’s also really good for your health. Studies show that by spending just 2.5 hours a week gardening, seniors can reduce their risk for multiple health issues–both physical and mental.
Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of being outside–and how you can help your older loved one continue to garden, well into their golden years:
How does gardening benefit the elderly?
If you’ve ever had a really stressful day, popped outside for a quick walk, and then immediately felt better–you understand the benefits of ‘green time.’ Nature can be an amazing salve for even the toughest of wounds.
- Physical health: For those that might otherwise live a sedentary lifestyle, even the smallest amounts of exercise can be beneficial. And gardening is a great way to get some movement in: It’s low impact, improves endurance and strength, encourages use of motor skills, and can be done at your own pace. Even better? If all goes well, you’ll be rewarded with healthy fruits and vegetables at the end. Other benefits include
– Improved mobility and flexibility
– Decreased risk of osteoporosis
– Higher levels of Vitamin D
- Mental Health: In the past, I’ve discussed the difficulties many seniors face with loneliness, social isolation, and depression. Often, exercise is promoted as a way to combat these, and other, mental health issues. Gardening, in particular, is often recommended to older adults for its emotional health benefits. Spending time outdoors and tending to plants is an excellent stress reliever. It not only promotes relaxation and provides stimulation, but can also promote socialization, as many seniors choose to join a gardening club or even invite grandchildren to help them out.
Planning and working in a garden is an act of creativity and an investment in the future. It is a gift to others that brings meaning and purpose to the life of the gardener.
Despite its numerous benefits, gardening may pose a problem for many older adults–especially those with limited mobility or other physical limitations. There’s no question that tasks such as weeding the garden or pruning the plants require a lot of up-and-down, kneeling, squatting, and other movements that may become more difficult with age. Sometimes, even the physical requirements of simply carrying a watering can may seem like they’re too much.
Don’t let those limitations deter you! Many of the physical obstacles to gardening can be overcome by using the right technique or the right tools. Here are a few suggestions:
- Use a vertical garden or raised beds to alleviate the need to bend or crouch
- Purchase brightly-colored tools to make them easier to find
- Avoid the hottest times of day by gardening early in the morning or just before dusk
- Stay hydrated and wear protective clothing, such as sun hats and long-sleeved shirts
- If the garden is on the ground, use a kneeler or knee pads for a more comfortable experience
- Invest in tools with longer handles to decrease the need to bend
- Try a garden scooter if walking becomes tiring–they’ll allow easy movement around the garden and even hold all of the needed tools
- Choose plants that can last a few days on their own without being watered or tended
Renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks said, “In 40 years of medical practice, I have found only two types of non-pharmaceutical ‘therapy’ to be vitally important for patients with chronic neurological diseases: music and gardens.”
He believed that nature has a calming and organizing effect on our brains. That it is restorative and healing, even for those who are deeply unwell. Many studies back up his claims and I have to say–I agree.