It’s that time of year. Growing season is upon us, and aside from the actual fruits of your labor, there are multiple health benefits to gardening.
Get Outside and Get Your Vitamin D
A 2014 Italian study, published on the National Institutes of Health website, found that exposure to sunlight helped older adults achieve adequate serum vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is needed to maintain healthy bones. Outdoor activities, such as gardening, drive folks outside to soak up the sun, and thereby increase their vitamin D levels. So get out there, and enjoy the added health benefit of increasing this much needed vitamin, which will have lasting effects on your health. Just remember to pack your sunscreen!
Lower Risk of Dementia
Studies have also found that gardening could lower the risk of dementia by 36%. Researchers tracked just under 3,000 people over the age of 60 for 16 years and concluded that physical activity, particularly gardening, could reduce the incidence of dementia in future years.
Gardening Can Improve Mood and Reduce Stress
A recent study out of the Netherlands, suggests that gardening fights stress even better than other hobbies. Participants completed a stressful task and were then told to read inside or go outdoors and garden for 30 minutes. The gardening group reported better moods afterward, and their blood tests showed lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. There is a great sense of accomplishment that is achieved by watching something that you have planted and grown with your own hands – flower, fruit and produce.
Gardening as Exercise
I don’t know about you, but I feel like the best way to get exercise is by doing something that you enjoy. You’re much more likely to exercise, if you’re having fun while you do it. Gardening is one of those activities, that while purposeful and possibly a bit tedious at times, can give you a great workout when you least expect it. Bending, stretching, pulling, twisting, lifting watering cans are all giving you the benefits of physical activity while your mind is focused on tending to your garden. These activities can improve your overall flexibility, strength, stamina and balance. Before you know it, you’ll likely break a sweat and have experienced a great overall workout without even realizing it!
Community Gardens Help Reduce Loneliness
Not enough land to have a garden on your property? Check with your local Parks and Recreation Department to find out if your community has a community garden. These are typically large areas of land with cordoned off, rentable garden spaces. Grab a friend, pick up some seeds or plants and get started. The added health benefit of this type of space, is the broader opportunity to socialize with others who also enjoy gardening.
And, as we age, many people struggle to find groups to socialize with – think about it, you were around people every day at work. Once you retire, you need to look for opportunities to get together with others. Gardening can be a great way to accomplish this. These gardens tend to be part of neighborhood beautification programs or programs that help provide fresh produce to those less fortunate in your community. Getting involved in a community garden can lead you to other opportunities to help and volunteer in your community, which will help you grow your social network.
Too hard to get outside? Bring the outdoors in. Utilize a sunporch or a bright sunny window of your home to create an indoor garden. At Maplewood Senior Living, we provide our residents with gardening rooms, greenhouses, potting rooms and outdoor courtyards. For those that aren’t easily able to get outside, the potting rooms offer a great way to bring in lots of natural sunlight and the benefit of growing flowers, plants and vegetables – indoors. Keep this in mind at home as well.
Flower gardens can also bring many stress relief benefits, not only from the enjoyment of tending to these flowers, but also by watching the insects and birds that these attract. Planting bright red Daylilies, Hibiscus, and Bee Balm will help attract hummingbirds. While flowers like Stonecrop (Sedum), Yarrow, Phlox and Sunflowers are nectar-rich and will attract an abundance of adult butterflies to your flower garden. Our Maplewood at Chardon community in rural Geauga County, Ohio, planted its first butterfly garden in 2018. This type of garden had been requested by our residents who have long enjoyed watching butterflies. Thanks to the assistance of volunteers at a local arboretum, and the green thumbs of our residents and staff, this garden is appreciated by all.
Enjoy What You Grow
Maplewood Senior Living residents also get to enjoy eating many of the wonderful things they plant. Fresh herbs, peppers, tomatoes are incorporated into the culinary program. According to Mary Ellen Greenfield of Maplewood Senior Living, our communities take advantage of the fresh produce that is grown in our own gardens to infuse our meals. Fresh cilantro is added to our chef’s homemade salsa recipe. Fresh basil enhances the flavor of our favorite Italian dishes. And garden-fresh lettuce, peppers, herbs, beans, tomatoes and cucumbers are incorporated into our fresh tossed salads.
Gardening Makes a Great Volunteer Opportunity
Many communities have volunteer opportunities with regard to gardening, planting and tending to flower beds, etc. At Maplewood Senior Living, we collaborate with various organizations – including gardening clubs, women’s groups and others that volunteer to help our residents care for our flower gardens and vegetables. Gardening assistance is always a welcome volunteer opportunity, as many hands make light work. Our residents enjoy sharing this experience, as well as the helping hands of our volunteers. There are obviously many benefits to gardening. So get out there, and get growing! And, contact us if you’d like to volunteer with gardening or other programs at your local Maplewood Senior Living locations.