Health Benefits of Gardening for Seniors

July 29, 2015
If you have a parent who likes to toil in the soil, here’s some good news: gardening provides a plethora of health benefits for seniors. 

Physical Health Benefits

Tending a garden is an inherently physical task—consider all the kneeling, standing, lifting, raking, and weed-pulling that occurs in a typical session. That exercise not only increases joint mobility and flexibility, but it’s also heart- and bone-healthy. According to a study conducted by researchers at a Swedish hospital, regular gardening can cut the risk of a heart attack or stroke by 30 percent in the 60-and-over set. Pruning, using scissors, and other small hand movements are also great for maintaining digit dexterity and hand strength. 

Worried about back pain from hunching or kneeling over a garden bed? Consider a raised garden bed so your loved one won’t have to stoop. As with any exercise, seniors should be sure to do a few simple stretches before they begin gardening.

If your aging parent grows fruits and vegetables, he or she will also reap the nutritional rewards from the harvest. Fresh produce is rich in the vitamins and minerals that seniors especially need in their diet to thrive. 

Mental Health Benefits

The benefits extend well beyond the body. Gardening has been shown to alleviate anxiety and improve mood, as well. In a recent Dutch study, as little as 30 minutes of gardening per day significantly decreased the presence of the stress hormone cortisol.

The concentration that gardening requires is also good for the brain. A study of Australian senior citizens recently demonstrated that daily gardening can help ward off dementia. 

Lastly, the simple pleasure that comes with tending a garden can’t be discounted. It’s a great way to reconnect with the natural world, nurture plants and watch them grow, and spend time outdoors. 

Gardening Activities for Seniors

If you’re creating a garden from scratch for your aging parent to tend to, here are a few considerations:
  • Choose plants and produce that are easy to take care of and grow, such as herbs, sunflowers, marigolds, pansies, tomatoes, radishes, and zucchini.
  • Use raised garden beds (or create vertical gardens) so the senior does not have to stoop over.
  • Place a stool or chair in a shady spot in the garden for resting. 
  • Cover tool handles in brightly colored electrical tape so they’re easy to spot if dropped.
  • Encourage your loved one to work in the garden in the morning or in the early evening to avoid the hottest parts of the day.