Staying healthy—or getting healthy—is important to most people, but it isn’t easy. Especially as we age, health problems multiply, and our resources for warding them off diminish. But there are still ways to keep the vim and vigor in one’s later years, and gardening is one of them. What are some of the health benefits of gardening for seniors?
Gardening is a great activity for everyone because of its stress relieving properties. It helps remove us from stressors and brings us in touch with nature. In fact, studies have shown that it decreases the stress-inducing hormone cortisol better than reading. Here are some reasons gardening can decrease stress in seniors (and everyone else!)
Sunlight: It is a well-established fact that sunlight has numerous health benefits. It helps our bodies produce Vitamin D, which can fight disease and improve our mental state. Sunlight and Vitamin D also reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Reward: Harvesting crops makes you happy, and science proves it. Finding a juicy tomato or strawberry ripe for the picking triggers a release of dopamine into the reward center of the brain, causing a state of bliss or mild euphoria. This is the same high that comes from pulling the lever on a slot machine or getting a great deal on a new pair of shoes but without any of the negative consequences.
Bugs: Bacteria may not be everyone’s favorite part of gardening, but the bacteria in dirt specifically play a vital role in our physical and mental health. The article Why Gardening Makes You Happy and Cures Depression explains, “Mycobacterium vaccae, triggers the release of serotonin in our brain… Serotonin is a happy chemical, a natural anti-depressant and strengthens the immune system.”
So, go ahead; get your hands dirty. It’ll make you feel better.
In the beginning, most if not all of our food was “farm-to-table,” passing through few hands between harvest and supper. Many people recognize the negative impact long voyages has on our food’s nutritional value. Food grown in one’s own garden can be picked at its peak ripeness, plump with maximum nutrients, and not losing any from travel or preservation.
Some senior homes regularly use the products harvested in their own gardens in the meals they prepare at the facility. The owner of Rosemary Warmlands Senior Care proudly posts pictures and videos of her homegrown meals on her instagram.
Gardening Gives Seniors Purpose
One benefit of gardening for seniors in particular is the sense of purpose that can come from the activity. Some older ones may struggle to feel useful or become depressed because of a lack of meaning in their lives. According to a study published in Australia in 2020, “The regular and continuous care of maintaining a garden provides an outlet for meaningful engagement in life’s activities, an important aspect of successful aging.”
They also noted that gardening helps increase self-esteem, and those who participated on a regular basis were less likely to express negative feelings toward aging. If a senior living home offers gardening as a group activity, it can also help fight loneliness by helping participants connect with others.
The study noted, “Shared gardening interests could help overcome the social isolation some older adults experience, through a greater sense of belonging, community and social support.”
Along the same lines, it is particularly important for seniors to keep their mind engaged with neurobics (exercise for the brain). Gardening activates several brain-stretching functions like creativity, planning, and sensory awareness, all of which reduce the risk of dementia.
More ideas on activities that fight dementia.
Increased Physical Activity
Gardening has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. It is a great way to get moving and keep active. It also contributes to increased mobility and strength.
If you no longer have the mobility or energy to participate in gardening, you can still reap the benefits. According to the study quoted earlier, “Regardless of ‘doing’ gardening or simply ‘being’ in the garden, having contact with nature was key to attaining positive therapeutic benefits.”
Raised garden beds can help those who suffer from arthritis or have troubles bending over. Even a few houseplants on the windowsill or just sitting outside in a natural environment can improve health and quality of life.
Southern California has great weather for year-round gardening and outdoor activities, so many senior living homes in the area offer such amenities. If you are looking for an Assisted Living or Board & Care Facility with a garden in or around San Diego, give us a call at (619) 660-8814. Our local advisors can help you find one that fits your needs.