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A little dirt won’t hurt. In fact, it can promote health and wellness – especially for seniors. That’s why gardening programs are sprouting up at senior living communities nationwide. Here are five benefits of gardening for seniors plus a few tips to keep everybody safe.

1. Health Benefits of Gardening for Seniors

There are many health benefits of gardening for seniors, here are a few fast facts:

  • One of the most impressive benefits of gardening for seniors is reducing the risk of falls.
  • A 2012 study revealed that senior gardeners had better balance and a steadier gait than non-gardeners. As a senior living manager, you may want to incorporate gardening into your fall prevention program.
  • In addition to mentally stimulating games, gardening can boost a senior’s mental sharpness and motor skills.
  • Another one of the benefits of gardening for seniors that can’t be emphasized enough is the valuable exposure to natural light. Low bone density is an issue for many seniors and gardening gives them a chance to absorb additional Vitamin D from sunlight.
  • The added exercise may improve senior sleep cycles and reduce chronic pain.

2. Gardening for Seniors Encourages Exercise

The physical benefits of gardening for seniors are one of the many reasons that it’s being incorporated into exercise programs at senior living facilities. Gardening activities like digging, cutting, and pulling up weeds can safely raise a senior’s heart rate to the point where it becomes exercise.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity level activity per week for older adults. They even specify that gardening contributes to the desired aerobic activities for seniors. By hitting their weekly exercise goal, seniors reduce the risk of numerous diseases, such as:

  • Obesity
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Osteoporosis
  • Heart Disease
  • Stroke

Disease prevention is one of several benefits of gardening for seniors, but the activity also improves their physical aptitude as well. As with any exercise, seniors can build their strength while enjoying a relaxing activity. Working in a garden encourages the use of all motor skills, which helps build mobility and flexibility. Seniors can build up endurance through gardening, taking on even more physically demanding exercises. This boosts confidence and pride – proving that the benefits of gardening for seniors go beyond just exercise…

3. Boosts Mental Clarity and Wards Off Depression

Horticulture therapy has long been documented as a valid way to relax the mind and improve mental dexterity with gardening. In the 19th century Benjamin Rush (a.k.a. “The Father of American Psychiatry”) proved the positive effects of gardening for mental illness. His studies revealed the mental benefits of gardening for seniors, as well as veterans and troubled youth.

Since Rush’s studies, more research has been done that thoroughly establishes gardening as a sort of medicine of the mind. Studies have found that the act of gardening decreases anxiety and depression while boosting a person’s feelings of stability and control. For seniors suffering from dementia, gardening has been shown to reduce aggression in patients.

The social aspect is one of the proven benefits of gardening for seniors. Senior living facilities often offer community gardens as one of several ways to encourage social interaction. Engaging regularly with others in a relaxing setting can help reduce isolation and depression for seniors.

4. Relieves Stress

There’s a reason that gardening is often listed as a leisure activity. Despite the fact that it can be physically demanding, the relaxation benefits of gardening for seniors can reduce their stress. Just being outdoors can stimulate the senses in a pleasing way that reduces tension or anxiety.

The Journal of Health Psychology conducted an experiment that showed the benefits of gardening for seniors. The study revealed that spending time in a garden provides more stress reduction than reading! This could be due to the sensory enjoyment that gardening provides. With gardening, seniors use all of their senses from smelling the flowers to hearing the sounds of nature.

5. Provides Healthy Produce

One of the indirect benefits of gardening for seniors is the potential for a locally grown food source at your senior living community. Over the last few years, home-grown vegetables have become trendy in the health and wellness world. By having seniors plant and harvest edible gardens, it increases access to fresh produce with minimal cost. Talk about farm to table!

Other benefits of gardening for seniors include the reward of eating something they’ve grown themselves. Providing for friends or family invokes a sense of pride and usefulness that unfortunately many seniors feel they have lost. Not only will senior diets be positively impacted, but their confidence will improve, too.

You could take the benefits of gardening for seniors one step further by inviting the seniors to plan a menu with your kitchen staff – featuring produce they’ve grown themselves! This would be a great promotional tool for your senior living center as well. You could invite prospective residents and their families to tour the gardens and enjoy a garden-to-table meal.

Bonus! 5 Safety Tips for Gardening

Now that you know the abundant benefits of gardening for seniors, we know you’re anxious to start digging! But before you grab a shovel, take note of important gardening safety tips to ensure you’re keeping seniors safe.

  1. Gear Up: To get the full benefits of gardening for seniors, make sure they are dressed appropriately. Require that seniors wear sturdy shoes, long pants, and safety goggles. Gloves will keep their hands safe from irritants if dealing with chemicals as well as scratches from plants. Ensure seniors apply bug spray and sunscreen.
  2. Safety First: Read all the labels before using any chemicals or power tools. Follow instructions carefully. Make sure that walkways and trails are clear and even to prevent falls and accidents – you want to avoid anything that could eradicate the benefits of gardening for seniors! Check that equipment is working properly before use.
  3. Beat the Heat: Seniors are more susceptible to heat and sun stroke, so take precautions to prevent overheating. Bring a cooler with juice or sports drinks so seniors stay hydrated. Take breaks often in a shaded area. Avoid gardening activities between 10am and 2pm – when the sun is strongest. When seniors are cool and hydrated, they can garden for longer periods of time – maximizing the full benefits of gardening for seniors.
  4. Add Height: Try to offer gardening above ground level, with either raised or vertical gardens. A raised garden would give those in wheelchairs a chance to participate. This may require some building, but will alleviate issues with lower back pain. Plus, a raised garden bed or vertical garden would allow even more residents to experience the benefits of gardening for seniors!
  5. Tools for Success: Provide seniors with the right tools to make gardening easier and more enjoyable. If needed, you can find adaptive tools and equipment from hardware shops. Or, use athletic grip tape to help seniors get a better handle on gardening! Having the right equipment will enhance the benefits of gardening for seniors.

The benefits of gardening for seniors are catching on fast at senior living communities. Get ahead of the curve and plant the seeds of success for your facility – and your residents – today.