Jenny Uglow once said that "We might think we are nurturing our garden, but of course it's our garden that is really nurturing us."
Although many people see gardening as a hobby or a past-time activity, there has been significant research into how seniors can enhance their well-being by spending more time in their gardens. We lay out some of the top benefits for physical and mental health and how gardening is an effective activity for those living with dementia or other cognitive impairments.
Exercise and burning calories
An hour of gardening can burn between 200-400 calories an hour! This is a great way to increase the heart rate without putting too much stress on your body. Just remember that having good form is just as important! Make sure you're bending at the knees, are taking breaks when needed and not putting too much strain on your back.
Carrying the plants, soil, and gardening tools can really help strengthen your muscles! The constant movement is also an excellent way to build mobility, flexibility and help activate your core.
Increase in Vitamin D
Being out in the sun also has incredible effects on your physical health. Spending time in the garden helps our bodies produce vitamin D. Seniors who lack vitamin D are at a higher risk of conditions like osteoporosis, heart attacks and strokes. Just remember to limit your time in the sun, stay hydrated, wear a hat and don't forget that sunscreen!
Mental Health Benefits
The physical act of gardening can help seniors lower their cortisol levels which ultimately leads to feeling more relaxed. You don't always have to be gardening to have the benefits of stress reduction. Studies have shown that sitting in a garden for 30 minutes can increase serotonin levels (the calming chemical in the brain that helps improve your mood).
Gardening is a fantastic way to improve your mood and self-esteem. A study in 2011 found that people with depression who participated in a gardening program for 12 weeks found that symptoms of depression significantly decreased after the program ended.
Sense of Community
Communal gardens (like the ones at Metta) allow for communication amongst other gardeners and give them a sense of personal well-being. Being in the garden will enable you to expand what and who you know.
Alzheimer's and Gardening
Sense of Independence
Giving people living with a cognitive impairment a sense of independence goes a long way and is essential to instilling self-worth. They are constantly relying on a caregiver for assistance. Working in a garden allows them to hone in on a skill they have and to enjoy themselves.
If the person has memories of being in a garden or maintaining a garden, participating in this activity can help them recall those memories and return to a healthier timeline.
At Metta Lifestyles, it was clear that incorporating a therapeutic program around gardening would be very beneficial for our residents and improve physically and mentally. If you would like to learn more about the program and learn other ways, Metta integrates other research-based therapeutic programs and visit our activities page.