Elderly Green Thumbs: Health Benefits of Gardening for Seniors
There’s a certain magic to being in a garden full of life and opportunity, let alone cultivating that beauty yourself. Gardening has become known by doctors, psychologists, and researchers alike to have powerful effects on the body and mind. The health benefits of gardening for seniors are even more significant in different ways. Gardening is empowering; it helps build physical strength, improves motor functioning, eases stress, and encourages positive mental well-being. In this article, we will discuss the various ways gardening can benefit seniors and our aging loved ones.
Health Benefits of Gardening For Seniors
In general, spending time in nature has been associated with improved emotion and mood regulation. Gardening is a low impact physical activity that provides us with moderate aerobic exercise, which increases the production of serotonin and dopamine — the happy hormones — in our bodies. It also helps decrease the amount of cortisol in your body, a stress hormone. Although we should be careful with how much sun exposure we get as we age and have more fragile skin, getting regular time in the sun is important for getting enough vitamin D. Not only is it a good mood regulator, vitamin D aids calcium absorption, bone health, and your immune system.
As we age, our joints and range of motion become much more limited. We are also a lot less active which eventually leads to loss of muscle strength and flexibility. Gardening is a great way to get regular exercise, lubricate joints, and strengthen mobility in seniors. Seniors can also do regular stretching activities after gardening to minimize the risk of injury, increase blood circulation, improve balance and coordination, and enhance muscle control.
Regular moderate exercise is essential for decreasing the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke, depression, colon cancer, and more. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers gardening a moderate-intensity level activity. According to their assessment, gardening for 2.5 hours a week will help decrease health risks in seniors. Gardening is also a great activity because people are more likely to exercise longer than with other activities like walking or biking.
Gardening Benefits For The Aging Mind
Gardening is stimulating to the mind in many ways and forces you to practice being present every day. Gardening encourages mindfulness because it engages all of the senses — smell, sight, sound, touch, and the special reward at the end: taste. You have to pay attention to the needs of various plants, and be keen to special details that will help your garden flourish.
Gardening is a good way to feel a positive sense of control and responsibility. Through nurturing plants and gardens, we feel accomplished with tangible proof of our effort. A little part of you goes into the care of each plant, and seeing it flourish can be very relieving. Gardening, or horticultural therapy, has also been known to reduce blood pressure, improve sleep, and help with dementia.
Gardening can keep you busy in the garden for hours, but it also gets you out into the world. It's a great opportunity to talk to neighbors, share ideas with fellow gardeners, and requires occasional trips to garden centers and farmer's markets.
Gardening Tips For Seniors and Home Caregivers
As people age, certain medical conditions and physical disabilities may complicate their ability to garden. However, this doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy the benefits of gardening. There are many things a home caregiver can do to help seniors maximize their enjoyment and health benefits. With some planning and just a few changes, home caregivers can create a safe, accessible, and enjoyable environment for gardening for their senior clients.
For example, consider planting in raised garden beds to avoid repetitive bending over and back strain. Vertical planting can make garden beds accessible as well. If possible, try using wall and trellis spaces, as they can also help people to avoid bending over too much.
It’s important to make sure you use the right tools that help get the job done safely and effectively. Pick long handled or curved tools that maximize leverage and have good grip. When it's time to get on the ground and start digging, consider protective knee pads. Keep a seat around in case you need to take a break or sit while doing a long, repetitive task.
Garden early in the day to avoid the afternoon heat and get energized with happy hormones for the rest of the day! If a loved one is feeling lonely or seems isolated, consider inviting a friend, family member, or neighbor over to help with gardening.
Gardening Benefits For Dementia
Gardening can be especially beneficial for the lives for people with dementia, as well as their home caregivers. Gardens are stimulating to various of our senses and connect our aging loved ones with their present physical environment. Aside from the beauty and peace associated with spending time outdoors, gardening has several mental and physical benefits for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Gardening creates a sense of purpose and is a very rewarding activity because it allows people to experience success, build confidence, and connect with their physical environment. It’s very satisfying for seniors with dementia to nurture plants and it’s an activity that people feel naturally connected to. For people with Alzheimer’s who are quite restless or agitated, gardening can bring peace and concentration, while relieving tension, frustration, and aggression. It is great exercise for the mind and body and boosts energy levels.
Seniors who have had fractures should talk to a healthcare provider about how much they can safely reach, bend, or lift. It’s best for home caregivers to keep a keen eye throughout the gardening process and provide support when needed, but avoid taking too much control.
Home caregivers can also allow people with dementia to plan and design the garden, as many seniors have previous experience and would enjoy picking their favorite flowers and plants. Ask what kind of plants or colors they like, and if they aren't able to answer verbally, show them pictures or take them to the garden center and ask them to pick their favorites. Encourage touching and smelling.
All of these benefits and more are what make gardening a great activity for home caregivers to do with seniors. For more information about home caregiving and senior care, please reach out to us at Alegre Home Care.