The Many Benefits of Gardening

Two people gardening

While life has taken a turn these days, Mother Nature seems oblivious to the upheaval. Spring and summer have colored our world with magnificent flora and fauna. There is evidence that wildlife is even more prolific since fewer humans are out and about.

Indeed, while we may be currently restricted in unprecedented ways, the natural world is still ripe with opportunities.

One of them is gardening. Whether it’s planting a few potted flowers or an expansive plot of land, one might say there are nearly as many benefits of gardening, particularly for seniors, as plants themselves (well, almost).

Let’s dig in and unearth some of the considerable advantages of gardening for older adults.

Physical Benefits

Aerobic exercise. The pulling, digging, reaching, twisting, and bending of gardening amounts to light aerobic exercise, which improves heart and lung health, helps prevent obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, some cancers, and more. For most, gardening is so engrossing, they don’t even notice they’re engaging in physical fitness. And it’s a whole lot more fun than walking on a treadmill!

Vitamin D exposure. Sunshine has been found to increase serum Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D increases calcium, keeping bones and joints strong and lubricated, and boosts the immune system. Seniors can benefit immensely from exposure to sunlight, as long as they’re properly protected from harmful UV rays. Sunscreen, sunglasses and a brimmed hat are musts.

Nutritious produce. For those who plant fruit and vegetables, their daily allowance of healthy fare is literally at their fingertips. From salad greens to peppers, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, strawberries, apples, peaches, herbs and beyond, a garden is a veritable cornucopia of healthful eating.

Cognitive Benefits

Decreased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. An important study tracking nearly 3,000 people over 60 for 16 years revealed that gardening can lower the risk of dementia by a whopping 36 percent. Gardening stimulates the mind and keeps us in the present, requiring attention to detail, patterns, spacing, depth, division and other factors. It is also a full-spectrum sensory experience, with vibrant colors to see, buzzing insects and water droplets to hear, aromatic plants and soil to smell, various textures to feel, and fruit, vegetables and even some flowers to taste.

Emotional benefits

Stimulates happy hormones. Gardening has been found to increase levels of serotonin and dopamine – the “feel good” hormones in the brain. It also lowers the stress hormone cortisol. One study, which had one group of participants read inside for half an hour and another go outside and garden, showed that the gardeners were in better spirits and had decreased cortisol levels.

Sense of purpose and accomplishment. There are immense rewards in planting and nurturing a garden. Watching tiny seeds break through the soil to display verdant greenery or colorful buds…plucking a juicy tomato from one’s own vine…witnessing the return of favorite perennials each year…these tiny miracles are tangibly satisfying.

Self-esteem. Life emerging because of a gardener’s good care is a confidence-booster, especially for seniors whose physical and mental capacities may be diminishing. It is a basic human need to be needed, and gardening fulfills this instinct ideally.

Social benefits

Combats loneliness and isolation. Older adults are particularly vulnerable to seclusion and depression, as many of them live alone or have limited mobility and access to transportation and other people. Community gardens can bring seniors together in a shared effort, thus fostering vital socialization and friendships based on a common interest. Conversations flow more naturally, as they are secondary to the focus on gardening.

Spiritual benefits

Closer to a higher power. Gardening gets people “out of their heads,” focused on something greater than themselves. Many feel closer to God or a higher power when they’re communing with nature in all its resplendent glory.

Gardening at Preston

We at Barclay Friends are thrilled about the construction of our new Preston building in quiet, residential West Chester, offering Personal Care, Residential Living and Memory Care. We’re especially excited about Preston’s dedication to therapeutic gardening.

Preston’s sensory stimulation garden in the courtyard features a private entrance, raised beds and plenty of space to get things growing. Here, residents can cultivate plants and vegetables with the advice of our full-time horticulturalist and gain all the fruitful benefits of gardening.

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