The Benefits of Gardening for Senior Physical and Mental Health

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two elderly individuals engaging in the benefits of gardening for seniors
September 25, 2023

Imagine this: you are sitting in a beautiful garden filled with colorful flowers, buzzing bees, and a light breeze. Your skin feels the warmth of the sun’s rays beating down on you. You are enjoying spending time tending to your plants and flowers, as well as showing your loved ones your work. Although gardening is often viewed as simply a pleasant pastime, its benefits go far beyond enjoyment, especially for seniors. As we get older, maintaining good physical and mental health becomes increasingly important. Participating in gardening for seniors is an activity that promotes vital well-being.

Physical Benefits of Gardening for Seniors

There is a wealth of research indicating that gardening yields various physical health benefits, including enhancing physical activity, providing essential vitamins

Enhances Physical Activity

You may not automatically classify gardening as exercise. Although the physical movements performed in gardening may not be as intense as other exercises, gardening still requires a variety of movements. These include bending, lifting, digging, and reaching, which seniors may otherwise not engage in on a daily/weekly basis. These actions provide an excellent workout for muscles, joints, and bones, helping to improve overall strength and flexibility, especially in seniors who may not be able to partake in more strenuous exercise. Gardening regularly can also help seniors manage their weight and cardiovascular health, helping them avoid other health conditions. By spending time tending to plants and maintaining the garden, seniors can incorporate a gentle form of exercise into their daily routine—and one that is enjoyable and rewarding! [1]

Provides Vitamin D

Exposing yourself to the sun’s rays is important for your body to properly take in and synthesize vitamin D. Gardening offers an opportunity for seniors to soak up the sun, leading to an increase in vitamin D levels. Vitamin D plays a significant role in the absorption of calcium, which is key to maintaining bone health. As bones tend to weaken with age, the absorption of calcium can make a huge difference in senior health. In addition, vitamin D supports immune function and has been linked to a reduced risk of certain diseases, including osteoporosis, diabetes, and certain types of cancer [2]. But, remember, wear sunscreen when gardening outside to protect your skin from the sun! Your skin health is just as important as taking in vitamin D. 

Improves Balance and Coordination

As previously mentioned, gardening requires one to regularly reach, bend, and squat in order to tend to their plants. Doing these movements on a regular basis helps seniors improve their balance and coordination, as they must navigate bumpy soil, lift pots and planters, and groom plants. The practice in balance and coordination that they gain when gardening may help these skills transfer into their day-to-day functions, decreasing the risk of falls

Encourages Healthy Eating

One of the best benefits of gardening for seniors is that it gives you the chance to grow your fruits and vegetables! Not only does this save one a trip to the grocery store—and the money spent there—but it also helps inspire one to eat the fresh produce they grew. Seniors who garden reap the benefits of fresh, organic produce right from their backyard. They can incorporate more fruits and vegetables from their garden into their diet, which supports their overall health and nutrition. And, the vegetables will probably taste even better knowing that you grew them from the ground up.

Provides Better Sleep

Engaging in physical activity outdoors, surrounded by nature, has a calming effect on one’s body and mind. Think about the last time you went on a walk or simply sat outside. It most likely made you feel tranquil and meditative, even if just for the time being. This can become a daily routine, especially when you have tending to plants as a motivator. The combination of physical exertion, fresh air, and exposure to green spaces promotes relaxation and better sleep quality for seniors.

Emotional Benefits of Gardening for Seniors

Gardening doesn’t only benefit the physical—it has a vast positive impact on seniors’ mental and emotional health, as well.

Promotes Socialization

Gardening by yourself may be enjoyable, but think about how fun it may be to garden alongside friends or family! Gardening offers seniors an opportunity to connect with others, promoting socialization and a sense of belonging. As seniors tend to feel loneliness at higher rates than younger individuals [3], making gardening a social activity can help combat isolation. Community gardens, gardening clubs, or even sharing gardening tips with neighbors provide good excuses for interaction. Engaging in conversations about plants, exchanging ideas, and working together on gardening projects can create a supportive and close-knit group, as well as support the overall happiness of seniors. 

Boosts Mood and Sense of Reward

Watching all the beautiful plants in one’s garden grow and thrive can have a huge impact on seniors’ emotional well-being. Gardening provides a sense of purpose, as seniors take responsibility for nurturing and caring for their plants. Seniors learn that without their nurture and care, their plants will die—this gives them a reason to get up each morning and water their plants. Seeing their efforts pay off and their garden expands instills a sense of accomplishment and reward, boosting self-esteem and overall mood. The satisfaction gained from successfully growing plants can bring joy and fulfillment to seniors’ lives.

Fosters Mindfulness

Gardening is a mindful activity—meaning it encourages seniors to remain present at the moment. As they tend to their plants, they become fully engaged in the tasks at hand, allowing their worries and stress to fade away for the time being. The sights, sounds, and smells of the garden create a serene environment that promotes relaxation. Seniors can immerse themselves in the experience and find peace in it. 

Creates a Connection with Nature

Studies have shown that individuals who spend more time in nature are more calm, mindful, and content [4]. Gardening allows seniors to make a deeper connection with nature. This connection can create a sense of gratitude and a feeling of being part of something much larger than their immediate lives, which helps instill a sense of purpose. 

Sparks Creativity and Self-Expression

Seniors can tap into their creative side and express themselves through the design and arrangement of their garden space. From choosing plant varieties to planning the layout, seniors can infuse their personality into gardening, which can help them express themselves and gain self-confidence. So, for any seniors who are bored of drawing and painting, maybe gardening will work as your next creative interest.

Gardening Tips for Seniors

When gardening, seniors should be mindful of a few tips to optimize safety and well-being, including:

  1. Ensure Safety and Accessibility [5]: To make gardening safe and accessible for seniors, it’s essential to consider their physical limitations. Raised beds or container gardening can reduce the need for constant bending or kneeling, making it easier to tend to plants without a backache. Installing handrails, using ergonomic tools with padded handles, and using kneelers or gardening benches can provide additional support and reduce strain on joints. It’s also crucial to wear protective gear, such as gloves and sun hats, and stay hydrated while gardening.
  2. Choose Senior-Friendly Plants and Gardening Methods: Vertical gardening, where plants are grown vertically on trellises or walls, creates ample space and reduces the need for excessive bending or reaching, as you can tend to these plants while standing upright Container gardening allows for greater flexibility and mobility, enabling seniors to garden even in limited spaces or without a proper backyard.
  3. Opt for Low-Maintenance Plants: Opting for low-maintenance plants that require less care can make gardening more manageable for seniors. Drought-tolerant plants, perennials, caladiums, lilac sage, or native species are excellent choices [6]. Choose plants that are easy to care for and that require minimal maintenance. Look for varieties of plants that are disease-resistant, drought-tolerant, or native to your area. This will minimize the need for excessive watering, fertilizing, or pest control, as well as ensure that your plants won’t die soon after you purchase their seeds. 
  4. Utilize the Shade: Designated shaded areas in the garden where seniors can sit and rest are essential. Install seating options, like benches or garden chairs, that provide comfortable spots to relax and take in the beauty of the garden. Incorporate shade through the use of umbrellas to offer sun protection and decoration. This will also make your garden more accommodating to other individuals to rest in and enjoy. 

Senior Health Services at Greater Good Health

There are many benefits of gardening for seniors, both in terms of physical and mental health. By embracing gardening, seniors can improve their physical fitness, maintain mental sharpness, find joy in nature, and connect with others. In addition to gardening, Greater Good Health provides senior primary care services to stay up-to-date with your health as you age. Find a location for primary care near you and contact us today to get started.