By: Allison Kauffman
The anticipation of spring is on the minds of many. One of the things my mother looks forward to the most in the spring is gardening. Since the Covid-19 outbreak, there is limited access to social opportunities in her town such as playing bridge and dining out, so she is excited to get outdoors and start gardening again.
Unfortunately, I do not have the green thumb that my mother has, but it makes me happy that my mom has a hobby that she loves. I have also learned there are many health benefits associated with gardening.
According to the AARP, one benefit associated with gardening includes exposure to vitamin D from sunlight. Vitamin D increases your calcium levels, benefiting your bones and your immune system. Daily sunlight exposure is important for people of all ages, but especially older adults, so they can achieve adequate levels of vitamin D. Of course you still want to use sunscreen and sunglasses to protect yourself while gardening.
In 2006, a study was conducted and published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease that gardening could lower the risk of dementia by 36 percent. In the study, researchers tracked more than 2,800 people over the age of 60 for 16 years. The study concluded that physical activity, particularly gardening, could reduce the incidence of dementia in future years. So if you enjoy gardening, this is a great preventative measure you can take, if you want to reduce your risk for dementia.
Gardening is also a great aerobic exercise. If you are anything like my mother, she does not enjoy exercise, but loves gardening. It may not seem like exercise, but sometimes you get so engrossed in what you are doing that you don’t even realize how hard you are working and breaking a sweat. You are using a variety of muscles and it can actually be a great workout if you do it for an extended period of time such as 30 minutes to an hour. Pulling weeds, reaching for various plant and tools and twisting and bending as you plant help with strength, stamina and flexibility. So instead of doing squats in the gym, you can do squats in the garden!
Gardening can also serve as a social activity, if you join a gardening club or plant in a community garden. After retirement, many people have a hard time finding social events and opportunities and may struggle with loneliness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, community gardens can provide fresh fruits and vegetables, while also combatting loneliness for retirees. There are community gardens located at both RiverWoods Senior Living Community and Normandie Ridge Senior Living Community and many local towns have their own community gardens. At our Albright LIFE sites, gardening is a favorite activity amongst our participants. At RiverWoods, we also have an indoor greenhouse for those who aren’t able to get outside as much.
Gardening has so many physical benefits, but it also has cognitive benefits. Spending time creating your garden and planning what you will plant, and where it will be planted, is a great brain exercise, keeping your mind sharp as you age. My mother spends many hours a week deciding what flowers to plant and how they should be arranged. Sometimes she even creates a chart of what the garden will look like once everything is in full-bloom.
So is it possible to learn how to garden later in life? The answer is yes! First you must determine what your surroundings are. Some plants and flowers like hot and sunny conditions, while others need a cooler, moister environment. You can research online what types of flowers, vegetables and plants you could grow at your home or you can always go to a local greenhouse or hardware store to talk with local experts. One great online resource is Garden.org, which features plant care guides, a weed library, podcasts and videos. Doing your research can really help you determine what plants will survive, if you have a lot of sun or lots of shade. Some plants require more watering than others, so research will help you determine what works best for your garden.
When deciding where to plant, try to choose a spot that has plenty of light with good soil that is able to receive water from rain or easy to reach with a hose or sprinkler. Some good things to think about when planning your garden include what types of plants you are most excited to grow, such as flowers or vegetables, how much time you have to spend gardening and what tools you may need.
So be sure to utilize resources online to help get you started, with lots of tips and suggestions on gardening. If you aren’t a computer person, there are also plenty of books and magazines to help guide you in your gardening adventures. And remember, not all of us have a green thumb like my mother, but we can all try to learn more about gardening. If your flowers bloom or your vegetables grow, imagine the feeling of joy and success you will have!