For many older adults, gardening has been a lifelong hobby, especially for those who grew up planting “victory gardens” to aid the war effort. But many seniors worry that they will have to give up gardening as they get older and cannot easily bend, kneel and squat to dig, weed and prune. For others, moving to an apartment/condo means the loss of yards and gardens.
Aging doesn’t mean you have to give up growing your own tomatoes or roses. Using the correct gardening tools and taking advantage of garden innovations such as raised beds or containers can make it easier for older bodies. In fact, many assisted living communities are offering raised garden beds as an amenity. You can also take advantage of community gardens or sign up with the local garden club to beautify public spaces.
Beyond the pleasures of growing our own food or other plants, gardening stimulates all the senses, gets us outdoors and provides many health benefits, both physical and emotional. Studies have shown that gardening relieves stress, eases depression, boosts self-esteem, increases heart health and reduces the risk of stroke. It also improves hand strength and dexterity, increases brain health, decreases Alzheimer’s risk and regulates the immune system.
When practiced regularly, gardening can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol and prevent diabetes and osteoporosis. It gives all major muscle groups a good workout including your legs, arms, buttocks, stomach, neck and back. Digging up soil, setting plants or carrying water can increase heart rate and tone the body. Gardening is also an excellent way for aging bodies to get “moderate cardiovascular exercise,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Institute of Health recommends 30-45 minutes of gardening 3-5 times a week to combat obesity.