Perhaps the scent of soil and freshly cut grass brings back memories of childhood or the hour of sunshine lifts one’s spirits. Whatever the cause, gardening has always been a go-to activity for residents of senior living communities.
According to social horticulturist Dr. Angela O’Callaghan, “Specially maintained gardening facilities that help people remain connected with nature provide benefits for a wide variety of people who are ill or recovering from illness [including] for people recovering from surgery in healthcare facilities, for those who are undergoing physical rehabilitation, and for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease who are living in special care residences.”
Consider the following benefits and maybe you’ll join your parents for an hour or two in the garden.
Gardening as a Form of Exercise
A day of gardening can provide plenty of physical exercise, helping your loved one to stretch their joints and tone their muscles. From the constant squatting and bending (which works out the lower back and thighs) to shoveling dirt (a fantastic arm exercise), your parent will get a great workout just by planting a few tomatoes and sunflowers.
As stated in one publication from Interim HealthCare, “Gardening itself can help prevent injury, physical therapists say. Specifically, it can offer an increase in mobility and flexibility, something which can help older adults maintain their independence.”
Compared to cardio exercises such as biking and jogging, thirty or forty-five minutes of gardening can burn 150-300 calories. The constant moving, raking, digging, and weeding provide an intense workout for the arms, core, legs, and back.
Like all workouts, you should take a few minutes to warm up before you begin. Make sure your loved one stretches before lifting any heavy bags of soil, and they should also drink plenty of water while spending a substantial amount of time in the sun.
Gardening for Mental Health
Like many activities at senior communities, gardening is often used to improve mental health. Simple tasks such as coloring, painting, and gardening give residents activities that flex their creativity and can function as a form of meditation. Gardening works the same way by allowing residents to perform an easy task in a calm environment.
Gardening has become such an effective tool for mental health that it has become its own branch of therapy: horticulture therapy. Like physical therapy, horticulture therapy uses a trained therapist who focuses on achieving treatment goals, in this case with horticultural activities as the method. The American Horticulture Therapy Association describes the discipline as “an active process which occurs in the context of an established treatment plan where the process itself is considered the therapeutic activity rather than the end product.”
Gardening as a Form of Socialization
Though you can garden alone, gardening with a group of friends and neighbors offers several benefits. In addition to the teamwork needed to plant, dig, and weed, the ability to converse and connect with others offers its own benefits.
According to the AASC, “Having a variety of positive social supports can contribute to psychological and physical wellness of elderly individuals. Support from others can be important in reducing stress, increasing physical health and defeating psychological problems such as depression and anxiety.”
Encourage your loved one to garden with friends or join in on the fun. Time away from the television and Internet can give your parent an opportunity to reconnect with nature, chat about their feelings, and share their experiences about senior living.
Fruits of Labor
The benefits of gardening range from the physical to emotional, making this outdoor activity a great alternative to an hour of TV. The best part, however, will come in time when the flowers have bloomed and the strawberries have ripened, ready for you and your loved one to pick and enjoy in the apartment. The fruits of your labor have never been sweeter.