For those who planted a vegetable garden in the Spring, a late Summer bounty of fresh vegetables is hopefully making all the hard work worthwhile. But even if your garden is limited to a few perennial and annual plants, spending time in nature can offer many health benefits. Green Therapy not only provides regular physical activity for older adults, gardening and being outdoors in peace can help relieve stress and anxiety and promote a sense of peace and well-being.
According to a recent McMaster University Optimal Aging Portal blog post, planting, weeding, watering and pruning work in the garden can help older adults gently exercise, strengthening muscles, and increasing flexibility, balance, and mobility. Staying physically active is critical for older adults to maintain muscle mass and help prevent falls leading to injury.
Working in the garden is also beneficial for mental health. Spending time in nature, and in natural sunlight, has been found to release serotonin – the “happy hormone”. In addition to boosting mood, gardening and being outside can help regulate a healthy sleep cycle. To increase the benefits of gardening, older adults who join a gardening club or create a community garden can also enjoy opportunities for regular social interaction that help prevent isolation and loneliness. Successes in the garden can also improve self-esteem and give seniors a greater sense of purpose.
Gardening successfully not only requires physical labour, but the activity can also challenge the brain. Plants each have their own unique needs for sunlight, water, fertilizer, and protection from pests. Researching and remembering all the information required to establish a thriving garden challenges the brain with memory and problem-solving tasks, helping to protect against age-related cognitive decline or memory loss.
Don’t have the greenest thumb? Even small container gardening on a deck or patio can be surprisingly rewarding. Start out small by planting a few herbs, hardy annuals, or a climbing tomato plant. Your first salad made with your own produce will have you hooked and planning for next year’s expansion.