Gardening can offer older adults surprising benefits

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And it’s not just mental health benefits

As the weather continues to warm up, many of us will find ourselves back outside pruning, planting and playing in green spaces.

This is good news for our bodies and minds, as gardening offers some big benefits for both physical and mental health.

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Gardening can help combat depression, anxiety and loneliness

We likely know from our own experiences that bright blooms and warm sun can be a powerful antidote to a less-than-stellar mood. Getting outside and playing with the dirt, mindfully tending to a plant and watching it grow from seed, gives us both a sense of peace and accomplishment that can keep anxiety and depression at bay.

But science backs this up too.

A study from Texas A&M University AgriLife Extension Service found that interacting with plants can increase self-esteem and reduce feelings of anger, sadness and stress. It also helps keep people in touch with their communities and creates socializing opportunities. All of these factors are critical for maintaining positive emotional health.

Working in a garden keeps the brain sharp

One study found that daily gardening may reduce the risk of dementia by up to 36%. A 2019 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Health also found that planting a vegetable garden can improve brain nerve growth factors related to memory, and can improve functioning in the hippocampus, which is critical for memory, and cortical regions of the brain.

Gardening also helps combat stress and low mood and increases feelings of joy and happiness, all of which contribute to a healthier, happier, more resilient brain.

Gardening is good for the hands

Planting seeds, mulching rows, pruning unruly sprouts, harvesting vegetables — these gardening tasks may not seem like much of a workout. But they are, especially for the hands as they age.

Gardening activities, and working with the gardening tools those activities require, are all great ways to protect and promote hand strength, according to a Kansas State University study. It can also improve dexterity, according to a blog from Connecticut-based Orthopaedic Specialty Group.

Those suffering from conditions such as arthritis may also find that gardening helps alleviate symptoms.

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Tending a garden can decrease inflammation and lower blood pressure

Spending time with plants and trees is mentally soothing, but it also has a positive effect on important physical health indicators such as blood pressure and inflammation.

One study, published by the American Society for Horticultural Science, looked at the effects of community gardening on 21 women over 70 who participated in a 15-session gardening program. Researchers found that low-to-moderate physical exertion while gardening decreased their cholesterol levels, blood pressure and oxidative stress in the body.

Another study published in Sage Open Medicine showed that gardening may have helped reduce morbidity and mortality rates in older study participants with cardiovascular disease.

Gardening keeps cortisol levels low

It’s long been proven that spending time outside in nature can help reduce stress levels. Even a small spot on the porch with some potted plants can help induce levels of calm and decrease feelings of stress, according to a 2020 study.

Further, gardening itself, access to vitamin D and the creativity and mindfulness gardening offers all work together to reduce cortisol levels, which The American Institute of Stress says is beneficial to overall health.

Beyond its medical and mental health benefits, we know anecdotally that gardening is also a simple delight, one that can bring real joy and peace into the lives of those who love it.

And sometimes there’s no better reason to take up a hobby than that.

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