Gardening is an activity that can not only help seniors eat healthier but also keep active physically. And as an added benefit, gardening brings mental and emotional benefits.
How? Here are some unexpected ways gardening can improve an older adult's health.
1. Better blood flow to the brainStudies show that adults in their 60s and 70s who are gardeners have up to a 47 percent lower chance of developing dementia compared to non-gardening older adults. Even though gardening doesn’t involve a lot of strenuous physical activity, it still boosts oxygen levels in the blood. Although it’s a low-impact activity, gardening increases the heart rate, which leads more blood flow into your vital organs.
2. Increased serotonin levelsDigging in the dirt is a great way to boost your mood and relieve stress. One reason for this researchers found is that Mycobacterium vaccae, a harmless bacterium found in soil, releases serotonin, a chemical that helps to balance mood and cognitive function.
3. Enhanced mental stimulationWhen seniors or adults of any age are gardening, they become more aware of the environment around them. And because gardening requires the ability to gather information and learn new skills along with problem-solving and planning, it keeps the brain active. This brain activity helps create new neural pathways. And when gardening also doubles as a social activity, it helps older adults preserve social and verbal skills.
4. Released anxietyIt's not uncommon for older adults to experience anxiety, whether they have an anxiety disorder or less frequent nerves. And for seniors with dementia, becoming agitated and anxious is a common symptom. With its sounds, sights, and scents, spending time in a garden can bring about relaxation and help relieve anxiety in seniors, including those with dementia.
This helps to control agitation. In fact, some memory care facilities have memory care gardens where their patients can walk around without fear of becoming lost.
5. Vitamin D exposureWhen you’re out in the garden, you’re exposed to Vitamin D, which is essential for increasing calcium levels. Calcium is beneficial for the bones and immune system.
In addition to the act of gardening itself, there are numerous low-maintenance plants with medicinal health benefits. Including tea that can be made out of the leaves or flowers. Native plants such as the beautyberry can be used to help with joint pain and stomach aches. Or there’s the aloe vera plant, which is known for its extract, used to soothe skin irritations.
Gardening Safety TipsHere are some safety tips for seniors to keep in mind before digging into gardening:
- Attend to any insect bites, bruises or cuts immediately.
- If using power tools or other types of gardening tools, use care when operating them.
- Make sure that all pathways and walkways in the garden are flat, non-slip surfaces to avoid falling or tripping.
- Warm up your muslces before starting to garden and drink plenty of water.
- Avoid too much sun exposure, and garden either in the morning or later in the afternoon. Apply sunscreen often, wear a hat, protective shoes, gardening gloves and lightweight, comfortable clothing.
Linda Lee Ruzicka is an avid gardening blogger and expert. In her spare time she can be found enjoying and relaxing in several gardens around her home that she tends.