Pottering away in the garden and tending to plants is a loved hobby for many Australians who like to escape the indoors and connect with nature. But it’s much more than a leisure pursuit with many mental and physical benefits for seniors.
In addition to an increase in life satisfaction, quality of life and a sense of community, studies have shown gardening can lead to a decrease in depression, anxiety and body mass index.
According to research published in Elsevier, just a few short hours of pottering about can provide mental health benefits, due to an increase in social interaction, healthy eating and exercise.
Researchers have even called on government action to encourage people to participate in the activity regularly.
“Gardening can improve physical, psychological and social health which can, from a long-term perspective, alleviate and prevent various health issues facing today’s society,” the study detailed.
Time outdoors in nature listening to the birds chirping and the bees buzzing is relaxing for many, but adding in some gardening and you’ll notice your mood is dramatically improved.
A study published in J-Stage found your mood increases more when you’re participating in horticultural activities than just sitting in nature. Researchers said two hours of gardening is the most effective stress reducer with study participants recording the largest improvement in mood.
Meanwhile, a study published by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, found gardening is even better for mental health than reading. While sitting down with a book did lead to a decrease in cortisol levels, the results were significantly stronger among those who’d spent time gardening.
Walking, swimming and weight-bearing exercises are all great ways to stay physically fit in retirement, but if you don’t enjoy it, you may struggle to stick to a regular routine. The good news is, if you’re a keen gardener and spend many hours tending to your plants, you’re probably already hitting your daily exercise goal.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults over the age of 65 undertake 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most days of the week to maintain and improve health. This includes brisk walking, swimming and dancing.
However, a study published in the American Society for Horticultural Society found gardening can also contribute to the recommended physical activity for 63 to 86-year-olds.
Pachana says many people underestimate how much physical activity is involved in gardening, such as squatting to pick up pot plants and using your arm strength to move them around.
If you have an injury there are special tools available from gardening stores, including elevated garden beds for people who suffer from a bad back, cushioned pads to protect the knees and front-squeeze hose nozzles that are helpful for arthritis sufferers.
Of course, it’s always best to avoid gardening during the hottest hours of the day from 10am to 2pm, and apply sunscreen when you’re outside.
Whether you’ve found retirement chaotic or that you have endless hours to fill, gardening can help bring structure and routine back into your life. Each day you’ll have to water your plants, make sure they’re getting the right amount of sun and occasionally do some pruning.
As you age, gardening can help restore some independence. Contributing to community gardens in aged care and residential facilities can make you feel more accomplished and therefore more independent.
“Taking care of a plant gives people a feeling like something is depending on them to survive,” Pachana says. “It may seem like a very small thing, but it has real benefits to people as it creates a sense of ownership.”