As we get older, there’s a popular preconception that we have to forgo activities we once enjoyed because we are no longer fit or able enough to partake in a safe manner.
One such activity that can become difficult with age is gardening. Maybe you were once able to easily navigate heavy gardening tools and equipment with ease or spent hours toiling away in your garden with little effort but now find that these activities are too strenuous.
Outdoor activities such as gardening provide a myriad of amazing benefits such as activating the physical body and mind, providing easy access to nature and sunlight (Vitamin D!) and contributing to overall general wellness, so it would be a shame for a seasoned green thumb to have to step away from their beloved garden because they are unable to keep up with the demands of the task.
However, a few simple adjustments and added considerations could be all it takes to keep you in the groove of things.
Just as diets can be adjusted to meet your nutritional goals, so too can gardening be adjusted to suit your physical capacities. With this in mind, Starts at 60 have put together a comprehensive guide of general information, considerations, and recommendations for safely gardening in older age.
If you weren’t already aware, gardening is a highly recommended activity for any stage of life, but particularly for older people because of its mental and physical benefits. Again, there is a popular misconception that as we age, we lose the ability and physical fitness to perform physical tasks. This is where the benefits of gardening come into play, in that the activity offers all the traditional rewards of more intense forms of exercise, such as movement and muscle activation, without being an overly strenuous activity for those over 60.
Not only is gardening generally enjoyable and relaxing, but it also promotes increased physicality, mobility and flexibility and can help improve endurance and strength for those who are unable to engage in more intense forms of exercise such as heavy-lifting and gym-based workouts. Being a primarily outdoor activity, gardening is also a great way to soak in some much-needed vitamin D whilst lapping up the added mental benefits of being in nature and getting some fresh air. In short, gardening is the perfect way for older people to keep fit and healthy while engaging in an activity that is undeniably rewarding – as anyone who has watched their gardens transform while reaping the benefits of their homegrown produce can attest to.
As restorative and physically stimulating as gardening can be, it can also present its fair share of dangers if precautions aren’t taken into consideration. An important precaution to take when gardening is to wear protective clothing (hats, long-sleeved clothing, long pants etc) and sunscreen at all times, whether you’re gardening for a long period or not. It’s of no benefit to you if those harsh UV rays counteract the mental and physical benefits provided by gardening and leave you with nasty skin cancers later in life. Seniors Safety Advice recommends avoiding doing long stints of gardening during the hottest parts of the day and spreading out gardening activities to avoid over-working specific muscles and joints. It is also important to always take care when in the garden, given older age can make you more susceptible to injuries as a result of thinning skin and mobility issues.
Take things slowly and don’t take shortcuts. Be sure to make safety a priority and with caution whenever handling or operating sharp, heavy equipment. It is essential to wear closed-in, protective shoes and gloves at all times to ensure your hands and feet are protected from potential hazards. Another thing to consider is hydration, regular breaks, and getting enough to eat to keep up with your energy expenditure, given gardening can be hard work and physically taxing.
When it comes to the necessary bending, lifting and movement required for gardening, make sure to follow some simple best practice tips for reducing the likelihood of injury and muscle straining.
As we get older, there are a number of necessary adjustments to put into place to ensure your gardening experience is as safe and seamless as possible. The older we get, the more prone we are to accidents, falls, and injuries, and therefore, the way we garden should be adjusted to ensure gardening tasks are as easy to navigate as possible.
Perhaps one of the most important recommendations is to make sure your garden beds are easily accessible. As described by Better Health Channel, “garden beds, equipment and tools can all be modified to create a garden that is interesting, accessible and productive.” Vertical planting is a great way to ensure you can easily navigate your garden. Better Health Channel recommends installing trellises, fences, and walls as supportive structures for your harvests. Another great recommendation is to install elevated, easily transportable garden beds to reduce the amount of bending and heavy moving required to complete your day-to-day gardening activities – perhaps consider casters for heavy pots or swap out heavy soil mixtures for lighter soil-free mixtures. Raised beds are beneficial for improving drainage and offering seamless harvesting. The less physically exhausting and straining gardening is, the better.
When it comes to gardening tools, there are a few considerations that should be made. Firstly, try to choose tools that are lightweight if you are using them frequently and for prolonged periods of time. Secondly, Better Health Channel suggests fitting your tools with foam, tape and plastic tubing to make them easier to handle and grip – in turn, decreasing the likelihood of injury due to fatigue (such as dropping a heavy tool or piece of equipment on your foot etc). Wheelbarrows are a great tool for transporting tools from A to B, especially if you have a large garden and a lot of ground to cover. Gardners.com suggests using soaker hoses and drip-irrigation systems to “eliminate the effort of dragging horses around”, an activity that can become tedious and exhausting.
Given the harsh Australian sun making space for shade is crucial. For example, if you’ll be regularly working on your garden beds, it could be a great idea to install some kind of shade, possibly a tarp, over the space for cover. This way, you still enjoy all the benefits of outdoor gardening, without suffering the potentially harsh effects of UV rays and dehydration. Even add a little table and chairs somewhere under the shade so you can easily and comfortably take a break when needed. The more comfortable you design your space, the longer you’ll be able to garden for without feeling like the activity is becoming a burden.
Have you considered indoor gardening? Although indoor gardening may not provide the nature and sunlight aspects of outdoor gardening, it is still a great alternative for older people who may not have the access or capacity to garden outdoor due to health conditions or other concerns. Indoor gardening requires less mobility and usually means less maintenance and less potential for injury.
Remember, no matter your age, gardening can still be enjoyed in varying capacities. By making some targeted adjustments to suit you and your lifestyle as you age, you can continue to enjoy the physical and mental benefits that come with gardening.