A green thumb is a healthy thumb. Discover the benefits of gardening for seniors to inspire you during the next growing season!
1. Gardening helps keep seniors active.
Gardening is a way to get your whole body moving. As you plant, weed and water, you’re putting your whole body to work. For seniors, an added benefit is that most gardening tasks are moderate-intensity exercises so you can burn calories without putting too much strain on your body.
Curious about how many calories you burn when gardening? About 200-400 calories per hour, according to WebMD. Just keep in mind, you may want to get help for some of the higher-intensity tasks, such as mulching or digging.
2. Being around plants can be therapeutic.
Simply by being around plants, you can improve your overall well-being. Dr. Jonathan S. Kaplan notes that plants can produce psychological benefits from their presence alone.
“Feeling good around plants is probably not surprising. After all, we surround ourselves with plants during celebrations and tragedies (i.e., weddings and funerals, respectively),” he says. “We also set aside ‘sacred’ green space for parks and community gardens in our cities and communities.”
The presence of plants can improve reaction times, improve perceptions of the space you’re in and lower levels of anxiety (especially if you’re recovering from a surgery or illness).
The best news is, even if your health doesn’t allow you to be active in an outdoor garden, you can still benefit from indoor plants in the same way. If this is the case, Dr. Kaplan shares these potted plants that were used in the studies he cited:
- Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
- Arrowhead Vine (Syngonium podophyllum)
- Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema sp.)
- Dracaena (various)
- Snake plants (Sansevieria trifasciata)
- Peace Lilly (spathiphyllum starlight)
- Vinca Vines
These plants can be especially beneficial for seniors in assisted living or inpatient rehab. You could keep a small indoor garden of plants on your window sill to gain the psychological benefits of plants. It can also be a fun activity to tend to the plants when your grandchildren visit.
3. Gardening improves your mental health.
On a similar note, gardening improves your mental wellness. Gardening is good for you and your mental health because it gives you a sense of responsibility, keeps you connected to nature and living things, relaxes you and provides a healthy outlet for negative feelings.
Some other mental health benefits of gardening include:
- Lower stress levels
- Increased mental clarity
- Increased feelings of reward
4. Gardening increases your vitamin D intake.
Imagine being in the garden on a cool spring morning. There’s still dew on the grass and the air is a bit chilly, but then the sun comes out from behind the clouds and warms you along with the flowers and plants that surround you. These blissful moments aren’t just good for your mood—they’re good for your health.
Research shows that sunlight helps older adults achieve adequate serum vitamin D levels, which is vital because our skin’s ability to synthesize vitamin D decreases with age.
The health benefits of vitamin D for seniors include:
- Bone and teeth health maintenance
- Immune, brain and nervous system support
- Insulin level regulation
- Lung function and cardiovascular health support
The more time you spend outside, the more vitamin D you’ll be able to absorb. Gardening gives you extra motivation to go outside daily and get some sun (if the Ohio weather cooperates, of course).
Just be sure to wear sunscreen and sunglasses, because there can always be too much of a good thing.
5. Gardening can reduce feelings of loneliness.
The final benefit of gardening may come as a bit of a surprise. Gardening is often a solitary pursuit, so how can it help prevent feelings of loneliness?
The answer is simple. With the increasing popularity of community gardens, it’s easy to meet and talk with fellow gardeners within your community. You can also join online gardening groups to make new friends or see if there are any local gardening clubs you can join.
Gardening Safety Tips for Seniors
When you’re out in the garden, keep these safety tips for seniors in mind:
- As we age, our skin becomes more susceptible to sunburn so be sure to wear sunscreen.
- Falls can be a risk when gardening. Make sure all walking paths are clear of debris and consider special gardening tools for seniors, such as a rolling garden seat or a garden kneeler that has handles to help you kneel and stand back up.
- Older adults tend to be more susceptible to temperature changes and dehydration. Limit your time in the garden on hot days and be sure to drink plenty of water.
Gardening Is Good for the Soul
All of these health benefits are reasons why our assisted living communities and rehab centers have beautiful outdoor courtyards for residents to enjoy nature in. Residents are also welcome to use them for planting so they can continue doing what they love after they move into assisted living.
For more senior health and wellness tips, read our blog or explore our resources for older adults and their families.