Gardening is a popular pastime that provides many health and wellness benefits for senior citizens. It encourages older adults to get exercise, which lubricates joints and strengthens muscles. Fresh air and sunshine also bring many benefits for people who can garden outdoors. Sunlight produces vitamin D and has a powerful mental health effect that can help fight against depression.
Studies have also found that gardening lowers cortisol levels in the body, which alleviates stress. This can also reduce blood pressure. One study had a group of participants perform a stressful activity. They were then told to go read or garden for 30 minutes afterward. Both showed lower stress levels, but those who gardened had a more significant cortisol decline.
Gardening also increases serotonin, the chemical that triggers feelings of peace and calmness. Some studies found a connection between gardening and a reduction in depression symptoms. Your green thumb could serve as a natural anti-depressant.
Whether you are a seasoned farmer or new to gardening, it is a hobby that’s easy to dive into. You don’t have to have a lot of money or time to get started. Many assisted living communities have on-site raised garden beds or similar facilities that let residents grow their own food or flowers. If a communal garden isn’t available, seniors can instead start with a small planter or potted plant that can sit next to a window.
Start at a Comfortable Pace
You may be anxious to get your garden going. That’s great, but make sure you start at a comfortable pace. Older adults may require more breaks. It can help to divide your time up into smaller increments while working in your garden.
Your mobility level and physical condition will determine how much work you can do at a time. Make sure you listen to your body if it tells you that you need a break.
Stretch Before You Head to the Garden
Seniors should always stretch before they do physical activity. Stretching helps improve mobility and prepares your body for the work ahead. It is also better for posture and can release muscle tension.
Make sure your gardening experience stays positive by stretching before you head out there. When stretching, hold positions for around 30 seconds and never bounce while doing so. Bouncing movements can increase the risk of injury.
If you have a disability or decreased mobility, talk to your doctor. They can advise you on how to safely prepare for gardening.
Drink Plenty of Water When Outdoors
If you plan to be out in the warm weather, make sure you have water available. People of all ages are at risk of dehydration. It can occur faster than you may think. Seniors are at a higher risk than any other age group.
If you feel excessively thirsty, confused, dizzy, or have a dry mouth, go indoors immediately and seek help. Other common signs of dehydration include not urinating frequently, tiredness, diarrhea, irritability, and urine that is dark in color.
Wear Sun Protection While Gardening
Sun exposure increases your risk of skin cancer. Most skin cancer cases are diagnosed in adults who are over age 65.
If you are gardening outdoors, make sure you wear sun protection. This can include clothing that covers any exposed skin as well as a wide-brimmed hat. You can also apply an SPF 30 or higher sunscreen.
Choose or Paint Brightly Colored Tools
Choose your gardening tools carefully. Look for something comfortable to hold, like tools with a foam handle. Easy-grip tools are also available and are usually a better choice for people with arthritis.
You should find tools that are brightly colored or can be painted in a bright color. This will make them easier to see while moving around the garden.
Protect Your Back with a Raised Bed
If you have access to a raised garden bed, this is a great choice for seniors. It eliminates the need to kneel or bend down, taking the pressure off the back and knees.
Your assisted living community may already have raised garden beds built for residents. Ask staff to see what’s available. If not, it may be a great recommendation for a future community project.
Have a Plan Before You Begin
A little planning will go a long way when gardening. Consider what you would like to grow. Do you want to nurture beautiful flowers or would you rather grow something that you can eat?
Consider the space requirements for different types of plants. Find something that will fit the planter or garden bed you are using. If you are growing a small indoor garden, look for plants that do well indoors.
You should also decide if you are going to germinate seeds or purchase seedlings from a local nursery. Seeds may need to be started indoors while seedlings may not need as much time to grow.
Get a Chair, Stool, or Something to Kneel On
If you must get on the ground, then make sure you can do so comfortably and safely. Getting a stool, chair, or bench is a good way to go. If you can kneel, consider buying a pad to protect your joints.
Whatever you choose, make sure it is sturdy and well-balanced. It should also be durable enough to handle being outside in the dirt. Some options may fold down, which can be helpful if you need to store them in an assisted living room.
Give Vertical Gardening a Try
Vertical gardening is an alternative to getting on the ground. It will require a little more hardware to start. You will need a wall surface or have someone build a frame to support the garden. You can buy garden fabric to attach or pre-made pockets for plants.
This approach is versatile and can enhance the aesthetic of the property. However, it will require proper irrigation and more effort to set up.
Ask for Help Before Lifting or Straining
Even a small garden can require some heavy lifting. Moving bags of soil or gathering up gardening tools can be difficult for seniors with mobility limitations.
If you run into a difficult task, don’t try to do it on your own. It’s better to ask for help than accidentally injure yourself. An injury is bad for your health and can force you to stay indoors for a while, which means you won’t get to enjoy your garden.
Residents in an assisted living community should speak to staff about assistance with gardening. Staff can also let you know how to safely use planters, pots, or window boxes in your living space.