Is there anything better than the taste of a fresh cherry tomato straight from the garden? Or how about picking a fresh sprig of parsley from the back porch to complement your next meal? Gardening is a proven way to get outdoors and exercise your mind, body, and spirit.
Incredibly, fresh fruits and veggies aren't the only perks of having a garden. Especially for seniors, starting and maintaining a garden can be incredibly beneficial. From offering a chance to socialize and problem-solve, to creating an opportunity to get outside daily, here's how gardening can benefit seniors:
1. Daily Exercise for Greater Health
For seniors, achieving low-impact exercise as often as possible is a great way to keep healthy. In fact, regular physical activity for seniors is known to:
- Help reduce blood pressure
- Strengthen the heart
- Improve bone health
- Help with sleep
Though it may not be the first activity to come to mind, gardening is actually a great way to keep in shape. All the different motions associated with gardening — like weeding, trimming, planting, and gathering — help you work on your flexibility and range of motion. And while it might be as strenuous as a run, even minor gardening activities like weeding can help burn up to 300 calories an hour!
2. Get a Boost from Fresh Air, Green Spaces, and Vitamin D
When you have a garden, getting outside every day suddenly becomes more important. There are plants to water, weeds to conquer, and fresh veggies to gather. For seniors, this push to get outside daily can make all the difference. In fact, studies have shown that spending time outdoors in "green space" can support our overall well-being and reduce the risk for issues like anxiety and depression.
Not only does getting fresh air outdoors help boost mood, but mild sun exposure can also help boost vitamin D — a vitamin essential for immune system function, nervous system function, and bone health. Although it's important to use sunscreen and avoid serious and prolonged sun exposure as a senior, spending a little time outdoors in the sunshine can help your body synthesize this crucial nutrient.
3. Make Gardening a Social Event to Boost Well-Being
Gardening offers many physical benefits in the form of fresh air, sunshine, and exercise — but it also has some social perks as well. Many people find that tending to a garden can quickly become a social event. Whether a senior goes to a community garden center, invites friends over, or helps tend plants at an assisted living center, this simple activity offers a great opportunity to socialize with others.
And this is an important benefit to gardening — especially since research suggests that increased positive social interaction for seniors increases health and well-being.
4. Support Cognitive Health Through Problem-Solving
According to the Alzheimer's Association, keeping mentally active throughout the aging process can help slow down the types of cognitive declines often seen in dementia and Alzheimer's. With this in mind, think about the common issues that come up in gardening, and how a senior would need to use problem-solving and cognitive skills to approach these issues:
- Which plants have complementary properties and should be planted next to each other?
- How do you handle invasive plant species and weeds moving into your garden?
- Are plants failing to thrive because they're not getting enough water? Or because they're getting too much?
- Do you need to adjust fertilizer or mulch levels to help the garden thrive?
At every stage in the gardening process, seniors need to recognize issues and adapt to changes — helping them feel confident and stay sharp.
5. Enjoy the Taste and Nutrients of Fresh Fruits & Veggies
What could be better than incorporating garden-fresh fruits and vegetables into a senior's diet? According to the USDA, regularly incorporating fruits and vegetables into your diet can reduce the risk of some chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. And fresh fruits and veggies are packed with some crucial nutrients for maintaining health:
- Want to maintain eye health? Carrots and sweet potatoes are a great source of Vitamin A
- Need Vitamin C? Cabbage and broccoli have abundant quantities of this immune-boosting vitamin
- Beet greens and tomatoes are a great source of potassium, crucial for maintaining health muscles
With a personal garden, a senior can easily reap all the benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the growing season!
The Many Benefits of Gardening for Seniors
From sunshine to socializing, starting a garden can be incredibly beneficial for seniors. Even without a lot of space, seniors can easily start a garden on a small plot of land — or even dabble in container gardening on the back porch. As long as seniors keep safe by wearing sunscreen, drinking plenty of water, and not overdoing it, gardening is an excellent past-time with a ton of benefits.