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Growing Healthier: Health benefits of gardening for seniors & age-related modifications

User Category: Mental HealthOn: June 10, 2013

Spring has sprung! With it, the sunny season brings renewed opportunities for seniors and aging parents to enjoy time outdoors.

Gardening, a beloved spring pastime, is a versatile activity that offers a variety of physical and mental health benefits for older adults, which research studies support.

Horticulture scientists at Kansas State University found that moderate physical activity through gardening improves older adults’ mobility, strength, and endurance. In fact, a single gardening session burns about 250-350 calories. The movements involved with gardening (think: lifting, kneeling, digging, raking) engage many different muscle groups, promoting hand strength, joint flexibility, and overall improvement of motor skills.

For seniors at risk of isolation and depression, gardening offers a number of mental health benefits as well. Researchers point out that there is natural motivation in gardening, when seniors nurture another living thing. It is rewarding and provides a sense of accomplishment to see it grow. Spending time outdoors absorbing sunlight has also been shown to improve mood, sleep, and decrease feelings of sadness.

Gardening Safety Tips & Modifications for Seniors

Some aspects of gardening can be strenuous, however, that does not mean older adults have to avoid gardening altogether. Here are simple ways to modify gardening activities as well as health and safety consideration caregivers should be aware of:

  • Our skin becomes more sensitive with age, making older adults more susceptible to sunburn. When working outside, wear sunscreen and make sure to reapply often.
  • To lessen sun exposure, wear a lightweight long sleeved shirt, eye protection, and a large hat to shade the face.
  • Scope out a shaded area for resting. Have comfortable, stables chairs for sitting.
  • Garden early in the morning or late in the day and consume plenty of water to hydrated. Avoid spending too much time outdoors during the hottest part of the day, between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.
  • Rotate tasks every half hour to work different muscle groups.
  • Elevate beds, use vertical trellises, and place potted plants at waist level to avoid excess bending or stooping.
  • Use brightly colored, lightweight tools that can be easily located and handled. Long handled or curved handled tools are easier to grip.
  • If a person has memory loss or dementia, install secure fencing around the area to help keep the person safe.

What additional benefits of gardening can you share that we have yet to mention?