Countless research studies have shown the benefits of physical activities for helping seniors enjoy a more active and healthier life. If you’re like most people, you probably think of physical activity as walking, biking, swimming or other types of aerobic exercise. But it also includes gardening. While you may already know the benefits of most types of physical activity, this blog post will look at the specific health benefits of gardening for seniors. Plus, if you currently garden or are thinking of taking it up as a hobby, this post will offer some safe gardening tips.
Gardening’s Emotional, Mental and Physical Benefits
Digging in the dirt, planting flowers and pulling weeds have emotional and mental advantages along with physical benefits. Six health benefits of gardening for seniors include:
- Stress and anxiety relief: Gardening can help lower cortisol levels in your brain. In addition to being necessary for sustaining body functions, cortisol is also known as the stress hormone. So just picking up your garden trowel can help lower your stress.
- Mood boost: You probably know exposure to the sun’s rays boosts vitamin D production, but you may not know it also increases your brain’s serotonin levels. Serotonin is a chemical that improves your mood and helps you feel calm and centered. So there’s a very real reason you feel better after a little sunshine. However, always remember to protect yourself from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays and sunburn by wearing sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat as you garden. As you age, your skin becomes thinner, letting the sun’s harmful UV rays penetrate more deeply, damaging your cells’ DNA.
- Better heart health: Any activity that gets your heart rate up benefits your heart by improving cardiorespiratory fitness. Gardening is a moderately intense exercise and can count towards the expert recommended 30 minutes of daily exercise and help with weight loss by burning calories.
- Increased mobility: Gardening has been shown to exercise lesser-used muscles, and it’s a good way to improve mobility and strength. It’s also been shown to be a productive way of rebuilding strength and mobility.
- Boost brain health: Working in your flower beds and pots requires critical functions like dexterity, problem-solving, endurance and sensory awareness. All these mental activities are important for brain health.
- Improved immune system: While being a little messy, digging in the dirt might actually benefit you. Studies have shown that a friendly bacteria found in garden soil — Mycobacterium vaccae — can improve your immune system and even help alleviate symptoms of allergies, asthma, psoriasis and depression.
How to Garden More Safely
While gardening does increase the risk of falls and overheating, here are some ways to make tilling the soil fun and safe.
- Think higher: Reducing the amount of bending over by using potted plants or raised beds can help prevent back strain and avoid feelings of dizziness. It also makes it much easier to move freely without the risk of muscle strain or falling.
- Lighten up: Switch out heavy gardening tools and buckets for lightweight items to ease the physical stress of gardening.
- Keep cool: Avoid gardening in the hottest part of the day and wear sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun. Also be sure to bring a water bottle and stay hydrated.
- Take a seat: If you become dizzy or overheated, it’s important to have a place to sit.
It’s also good to have a place to relax and enjoy the results of your hard work.