Gardening is a wonderful way to improve the overall health of anyone at any age, but its benefits are especially great for seniors – in fact, it almost seems as though working in the garden was created as the perfect activity for the elderly to fight depression and cognitive decline, get safe but strenuous exercise, and enjoy their twilight years.
A safe, controlled way to get enough physical activity
As we age, our opportunities for exercise seem to decrease. Whether you’re a senior with mobility issues, visual impairment, or chronic pain, the exercises that fit your specific situation may seem few and far between. That’s where gardening can play such an important role.
“An hour of gardening can reduce stress, boost bone density, and burn a whopping 300 calories [and] all that bending, squatting, raking, and lifting can challenge muscles as much as any competitive sport,” notes the AARP.
While gardening can certainly be strenuous, it’s generally low-impact – which means that your joints will hold up better than during higher-impact exercise like jogging. All of this great exercise comes during an activity that’s also mentally stimulating, produces beautiful products, and that can be done in your own backyard. That’s hard to beat!
A way to help fight depression
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “depression may sometimes be undiagnosed or misdiagnosed in some older adults because sadness is not their main symptom.” That doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. Isolation, the loss of a spouse, and feelings of worthlessness make the elderly more at risk for developing depression than some younger age groups.
Gardening is a proven depression-fighter. “When we exercise levels of serotonin and dopamine (hormones that make us feel good) rise and the level of cortisol (a hormone associated with stress), is lowered. It’s true that a session in the garden can leave you dead on your feet, but it can also get rid of excess energy so you sleep better and ultimately feel renewed inside,” explains PsychologyToday.com.
Gardening also helps us revive feelings of nurturement. When we grow plants we are fostering life. Many seniors miss this nurturing feeling when their kids or spouse is gone. Tending to a garden can, in this way, have a similar effect to adopting a puppy.
A way to stave off cognitive decline
One of the greatest worries of seniors is that they are slowly losing their mental sharpness. There are many schools of thought out there on how seniors can prevent the onset of mental decline such as dementia and Alzheimers, but most agree that staying active – both mentally and physically – is key.
“Research has been building, suggesting that gardens can specifically improve the health of people with dementia in a number of ways, from encouraging cardiovascular exercise, stimulating the appetite and increasing vitamin D levels, to improving mood, relieving stress, and providing an activity to share with family and carers,” says The Guardian.
There is also a lot of mental work involved in gardening, from working out spacial problems to performing mathematical calculations. Using your brain on a daily basis for more complex functions is one way to help prevent the onset and worsening of cognitive decline.
Seniors often struggle to find ways to exercise, keep their mind sharp, and be productive if they suffer from any sort of disability. It make seem too good to be true, but gardening really is the total package.
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