The health benefits of gardening for seniors are as plentiful as seeds on a poppy. Studies show getting down and garden-dirty is an excellent way to boost mental and physical health. Whether you live alone or at an assisted-living facility, gardening forces you to exercise your body and your brain. It's also a great form of therapy and community involvement.
5 Health Benefits of Gardening for Seniors
The benefits of gardening for seniors include:
- Exercise and burning calories. Planting and pulling weeds can help you burn 200 to 400 calories an hour. Gardening gets the body moving by requiring some bending, squatting, stretching and pulling.
- Muscle-strengthening. You don’t have to push around a heavy wheelbarrow to keep your muscles from weakening. A few hours of gardening per week will give you the workout you need.
- Vitamin D. While you don’t want to overdo it, a few hours of exposure to sunshine will give you more vitamin D than your nightly glass of milk.
- Stress-reducing. Gardening increases hand-eye coordination, which helps to keep the brain and body in sync. It also lowers stress-producing cortisol levels and raises serotonin; a calming chemical in the brain that puts you in a good mood.
- Decreases risk of dementia. The physical demands of gardening and critical thinking skills regarding what to plant and how to take care of it reduces the chances of Alzheimer's.
What to Plant
During the season, seniors and their families can work together to grow tasty vegetables in containers or a plot of soil. In spring, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower develop from seedlings. The same goes for tomatoes and peppers in early summer. Strawberries and blueberries are able to grow in small spaces; however, they will need some room to spread.
Flowers are pretty any time of year, but when growing them outdoors, it’s best to stick to flowers native to your region. You don’t need a green thumb because native flowers are low maintenance. Flowers that really brighten up a garden include:
- Black-eyed Susan
- Purple coneflower
- Grape hyacinth
Staying Safe in the Outdoors
Being outside for even a few minutes can be a hazard, especially in your later years, or when you’re caring for an elderly parent. Be safe by:
- Wearing sunscreen. Even when the sun doesn’t feel especially hot, ultraviolet rays may lead to red and burning skin. Severe sunburns can be serious.
- Latching gates and repairing damaged fencing. This will help keep unwanted animals out. Securing the area also is important if memory loss or wandering is an issue.
- Keeping a first-aid kit handy. Tend to cuts, bruises and insect bites as soon as possible.
- Storing all gardening tools in their proper place. Spades, trowels, rakes and the like can be tripping hazards. Take special care when handling electric and battery-operated power tools.
- Knowing your limits. Especially when you’re outside gardening in hot weather. Take a break as needed and don’t worry about what you didn’t get to.
Basic Gardening Tips
No matter what you plan to plant, set yourself up for success by following these tips:
- When planting outdoors, determine what works best in the sunlight or shaded areas of your garden. Flowers, fruits and vegetables grow differently in various soils.
- Have a water source nearby to more-easily irrigate plants if they are not getting enough rainfall. A light watering can or hose is perfect.
- Add 2-3 inches of mulch around each plant to help keep moisture from evaporating and pests at bay.
- Plant food or fertilizer may or may not be necessary, but if you use it, go organic!
- Tools to have on hand include a spade, hand trowel, clippers, gardening fork and thick gloves.
- The health benefits of gardening for seniors don’t stop once everything is planted. Make sure the garden is “senior-friendly” by setting out comfortable chairs or benches underneath shady areas. Rest and check out the scenery!
- Tend the garden in mornings and evenings when the temperature is cooler.
- Wear gardening gloves, solid shoes, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
- When you are watering and pulling weeds in the hot sun, be sure to stay hydrated! Drink a lot of water.
If you or your parent can’t get outside often, you may consider a “mini-garden” in containers on a windowsill. Terrariums are an option too — they are full of greenery and a reminder that life is still a garden of opportunities.