When we retired and moved to Point Reyes 18 years ago, I finally found the time and energy to indulge a life-long passion for gardening, beginning with a landscape plan for our new home on the Inverness Ridge. I joined the Marin Master Gardeners program and was astonished at all I learned and could incorporate in my new garden. From bare dirt or mud (depending on the season), rocks and tree stumps, I created a serene, shady garden we enjoy year round, an accomplishment in which I take some pride. And that, I am positive, has contributed to my healthy aging. But in addition to a sense of accomplishment, I’ve learned that gardening assists healthy aging in many ways.
Recent research demonstrates what we can know intuitively: that working in your garden is good for you; that visiting parks and gardens is both inspirational and relaxing, even to the casual observer. I’ve found that friendship among gardeners works in ways to help me become a better gardener (we learn from each other), and reinforces the value of my expenditure of time and effort in the garden. Even apartment dwelling gardeners can benefit from a few flowering containers on a deck; or a fern or two indoors. And, never forget the pleasure from a bouquet of fresh flowers, from your own garden or the market.
Here is a brief synopsis of a few health benefits of gardening:
Stress Relief: Our complex, multi-faceted lives require simultaneous concentration on many things at once, often leading to attention fatigue, which is exhausting and stressful. The more mundane activities of gardening, often repetitive, require involuntary attention, which is actually beneficial and relaxing.
Better Mental Health: In a Norwegian study, gardening significantly improved depression symptoms. Creating, or finding, a quiet place in a garden for contemplation and rest is always beneficial.
Exercise: Outdoor activity in fresh air and sunshine keeps one’s blood moving, boosting circulation. The repetitive tasks of gardening require modest strength and frequent stretching, both good, low-impact exercise, especially in older persons. Persons who garden for exercise are more likely to stick with it than with gym-type exercise routines.
Brain Health: Some research suggests the physical activity of gardening can lower the risk of developing dementia. Two studies followed people in their 60s and 70s for up to sixteen years and found that those who gardened regularly had, respectively, a 36% and 47% lower risk of dementia than non-gardeners.
Nutrition: The food we grow will always be fresher and more nutritious than the food we buy.