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How gardening helps older adults

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Gardening benefits

Gardening promotes health in older adults

Older adults who engage in gardening are found to have higher activity levels and improved nutrition from vegetable consumption. Newer research and past studies have shown multiple benefits that come from gardening in senior populations.

Higher vegetable consumption from gardening

Seniors who garden are found to eat healthier. Findings from Texas A&M University and Texas State University, published in the journal HortTechnology, suggest gardening could be promoted as a way to ensure seniors eat more vegetables.

Data gathered from online surveys showed adults 50 years and older consume more vegetables that had no relationship to the amount of time spent gardening.

According to Tina Waliczek, study co-author, "Our results support previous studies that indicated gardeners were more likely to consume vegetables when compared with nongardeners. Interestingly, these results were not found with regard to fruit consumption.

The responses also showed that the length of time an individual reported having participated in gardening activities seemed to have no relationship to the number of vegetables and fruits they reportedly consumed. "This suggests that gardening intervention programs late in life would be an effective method of boosting vegetable and fruit consumption in older adults."

Most American adults do not meet recommendations for consuming five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. The findings from Texas State University support the development of "intervention" programs that promote gardening as a way to help older adults who suffer nutritional deficits linked to higher rates of mortality and morbidity.

Increased activity and energy

The researchers also found gardening can improve quality of life for seniors, in a study the authors say was designed "to determine if gardening had a positive impact on perceptions of quality of life and levels of physical activity of older adults (age 65 and above) when compared with nongardeners".

The researchers found gardening was associated with higher quality of life scores and increased physical activity for seniors, compared to non-gardeners.

More than 75 percent of seniors in the study who gardened reported their health as "very good" or “excellent".

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Study co-author Aime Sommerfeld said, "In a time when older adults are living longer and enjoying more free time, gardening offers the opportunity to fulfill needs created by changing lifestyles. Gardening provides participants with opportunities to reconnect with themselves through nature and a healthy activity to enhance their quality of life."

Improved hand strength

A February, 2009 study from Kansas State University researchers found gardening improves hand strength in older adults.

Candice Shoemaker, K-State professor of horticulture said, "One of the things we found is that older adults who are gardeners have better hand strength and pinch force, which is a big concern as you age."

Shoemaker, who also researches gardening for preventing childhood obesity says older adults who rake gain benefits from whole body exercise, but just mixing soil and transplanting have benefits for strengthening the upper body.

She says, "There's a lot of natural motivation in gardening. For one thing, you know there's a plant you've got to go out and water and weed to keep alive. If we get the message out there that older adults can get health benefits from gardening, they'll realize that they don't have to walk around the mall to get exercise."

Exercise and accomplishing tasks associated with gardening can also improve self-esteem for older adults.

Finding ways to remain physically active with aging can be challenging. The combined findings that gardening has specific benefits for older adults supports promoting the activity among seniors.

Communities, caregivers and family members could help older adults by promoting any activity associated with getting outdoors to grow plants and vegetables.

Including the whole family could help fight obesity that is becoming more prevalent among all age groups, lift depression and reduce grocery bills, including the winter months by canning vegetables and fruits.

Container plantings on the patio are a consideration for those with disabilities that could lead to risk of falling or might be too physically demanding. Tending to a garden, whether in a large space or containers, has health benefits for older adults, found in several studies.