By Layla Dang, Brianna Wenande, Bethany Westphal, and Jessica R. Petok (Department of Psychology, Saint Olaf College, Northfield, MN)
Gardening is a popular summer activity for a reason! Research shows that it can have positive effects on our physical, mental, and social well-being as we age. Gardening can range from caring for a single plant to mowing the lawn or planting an entire vegetable garden. Don’t be intimidated. Given the versatility of gardening options, anyone can do it. It’s not too late to dig into gardening this summer! Here are four reasons to kickstart this healthy habit:
1. Gardening is great for your physical health:
Gardening is an enjoyable way to keep active and physically healthy1,2. Gardeners report increased levels of physical activity through planting seeds, positioning plants, watering, or simply walking through the garden2. Such physical activity has the following benefits3:
- Increased hand and body strength
- Improved flexibility
- Reduced bodily pain
Regular gardening can also reduce your risk of4:
- Some cancers
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
Beyond exercise-driven benefits, gardening can also improve nutrition, as well as sleeping and eating patterns. Planting a kitchen garden has nutritional benefits because it can encourage you to eat fruits and vegetables1. Spending time in an outdoor garden can help regulate your sleeping and eating patterns because sunlight controls your circadian rhythms4.
2. Gardening also benefits your mental and emotional wellbeing:
Gardening can keep you mentally active and alert, providing opportunities to cultivate new knowledge4. In addition to learning about new plants and gardening techniques, many gardeners enjoy the creativity of planning their gardens, which can include choosing what to plant or designing their garden’s layout4. Additionally, research shows that gardening and spending time in nature can even improve one’s attention span through exposure to a variety of sensory stimuli 5.
Among its emotional benefits, gardening can reduce depression and stress, and gardeners report feelings of anticipation, hope, and achievement4,5. If you are older, gardening can provide you with an opportunity to nurture and care for plants, giving you a sense of purpose and improving your self-esteem through a meaningful activity4. Many gardeners report simply gardening “for the love of it,” being attached to their gardens and finding them aesthetically pleasing4.
3. Gardening is an excellent way to improve your social life:
Gardening is a good strategy for expanding your social circle6. For instance, Participants in an organized horticultural program enjoyed sharing their gardening experiences and personal knowledge with others; it helped them form supportive relationships and become more socially active6. Additionally, gardeners have the opportunity to connect with others who share their passion through community gardens, gardening clubs, or social media groups4.
In addition to promoting social interaction and meaningful conversation with others, gardening can also increase your sense of companionship and combat loneliness. Many gardeners even form special bonds with their plants. For example, one participant in a gardening study reflected, “I say hello and talk to my plants everyday . . . It seems that the little plants can understand what I say to them . . . They respond to my encouragement and make me feel that I am not alone”6.
4. You can adapt your gardening habits as you age:
It is important to create optimistic goals as you age, and in order to promote optimum physical and emotional health, you should choose a gardening activity appropriate for your physical capabilities. You can continue your passion for gardening as you age, because luckily, gardening is easily adapted to meet changing needs. You can vary the duration and intensity of your gardening activities; ergonomic tools and low-maintenance plants such as succulents help make gardening more comfortable and achievable. Even just being in nature is cognitively and emotionally beneficial for you7,8.
Overall, gardening is a fulfilling, holistic way to improve your well-being as you get older. Even if you’ve never tended to plants before, gardening is within reach at any age. So, pot a plant today, and maybe it will blossom into a lifelong passion for gardening you never thought you had!
If you’re a gardener:
- What is your favorite thing about gardening?
- What do you like to grow in your garden?
- Do you have any tips and tricks for new gardeners?
Let us know in the comments below! If you would like to learn more about the benefits of gardening, this information may be of interest to you:
1Wang, D., & MacMillan, T. (2013). The benefits of gardening for older adults: A systematic review of the literature. Activities, Adaptation & Aging, 37, 153-181. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01924788.2013.784942
2Tse, M. M. Y. (2010). Therapeutic effects of an indoor gardening programme for older people living in nursing homes. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 19, 949-958. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2702.2009.02803.x
3Park, S., & Shoemaker, C. A. (2009). Observing body position of older adults while gardening for health benefits and risks. Activities, Adaptation & Aging, 33, 31-38. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01924780902718582
4Scott, T. L., Masser, B. M., & Pachana, N. A. (2015). Exploring the health and wellbeing benefits of gardening for older adults. Ageing and Society, 35, 2176-2200. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0144686X14000865
5Detweiler, M. B., Sharma, T., Detweiler, J. G., Murphy, P. F., Lane, S., Carman, J., . . . Kim, K. Y. (2012). What is the evidence to support the use of therapeutic gardens for the elderly? Psychiatry Investigation, 9, 100-110. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.4306/pi.2012.9.2.100
6Chen, Y. & Ji, J. (2014). Effects of horticultural therapy on psychosocial health in older nursing home residents: A preliminary study. The Journal of Nursing Research : JNR., 23, 167-171. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1097/jnr.0000000000000063
7Ulrich, R. S. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 224, 420-421. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.6143402
8Berman, M. G., Jonides, J., & Kaplan, S. (2008). The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature. Psychological Science, 19, 1207-1212. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02225.x
Layla Dang is a senior at St. Olaf College, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Psychology with concentrations in Management Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies. She is currently doing research focused on healthy age-related changes in various types of learning and memory, in the Petok Aging Lab. In the future, she hopes to pursue graduate studies in industrial/organizational psychology.
Brianna Wenande is a senior undergraduate student at St. Olaf College, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, Neuroscience, and Statistics. She is currently doing research in the Petok Aging Lab on how healthy aging and genetics influence learning and memory, and in the future, she hopes to pursue a career in child clinical psychology or pediatrics.
Beth Westphal is a junior at St. Olaf College, and she is studying Chemistry and Neuroscience. She is currently researching healthy aging, learning, and genetics alongside Brianna and Layla. Although undecided about her future career goals, she plans to spend time this summer working in her mother’s garden.
Jessica Petok, PhD, is an Assistant Professor at St. Olaf College. Her research is aimed at understanding the cognitive and neural mechanisms of learning, memory and decision-making in healthy adults of all ages. Her current work examines how genetic polymorphisms contribute to variability in learning and memory across the adult lifespan. She received her BA in Psychology from Skidmore College and her PhD in Lifespan Cognitive Neuroscience from Georgetown University.
Image source: iStockPhoto.com