Gardening is an excellent way for anyone to some exercise, but this low impact activity is especially beneficial for seniors who are seeking to improve their health. On the lush, Japanese island of Okinawa, where the elderly routinely live to be 100 years old or more, gardening is part of daily life. Seniors there recognize the myriad benefits to be had from growing things and working with the earth. Here are some ways that gardening can benefit your elderly family members and how best to incorporate this activity into their lives.
BENEFITS OF GARDENING FOR SENIORS
Gardening increases physical activity levels for seniors in a way that is non-challenging and low-impact. Walking around a garden and enjoying the fruits of one’s labor doesn’t feel like exercise at all, yet it gets the joints moving and the heart rate increased just a bit.
The esthetic joys of gardening include everything that is usually gained by looking at scenes of nature. Research has shown that looking at nature reduces stress, and even seniors have stress in their lives. Enjoying nature takes their mind off their troubles and may invoke childhood memories.
Caring for an outdoor garden requires a lot of bending over, which may be difficult for some older folks, but others will benefit from the joint movement. You and your senior loved one will have to be the judge of how much bending or kneeling on the ground they can manage. If it is an issue, there are many choices on the market for raised garden beds or raised planters that can be managed while seated in a chair. Make sure your loved one has something soft to kneel on, such as a soft outdoor rug dedicated for garden use, or foam knee pads.
Finally, using hands and fingers to dig, plant, weed and water requires some dexterity. It may help to alleviate some arteriosclerosis for some or be nearly impossible to handle gardening tools for others. If grasping a tool is too difficult, you may suggest using something larger, like a small metal bucket with a sharp edge for digging.
GARDENING FOR APARTMENT DWELLERS
If your loved one lives in a senior apartment community, an outdoor garden may not be possible. But an indoor garden certainly is. Your apartment dwelling senior can still reap the benefits of gardening. Use these ideas as appropriate for their unique situation.
If your senior loved one has a sunny window, install some simple glass shelving on the inside of the window jambs. Glass shelving—or Plexiglass—works best so that higher shelves don’t block out light for plants on lower shelves. Make sure you choose your plants first, so you can measure the necessary height distance between shelves.
Window sill pots for senior apartments can contain very low maintenance succulents like blooming cacti, suitable for someone who really can’t manage caring for a plant except to water it occasionally.
Useful and fragrant herbs like basil and thyme would be suitable for the senior who likes to add fresh herbs to their cooking, and who is capable of harvesting and chopping or drying the leaves as needed.
Pots of colorful flowers like marigolds, daisies or geraniums are suitable for seniors who want to take a more active role in planting seeds and watching them grow.
For apartment dwelling seniors who enjoy larger potted trees and shrubbery, and who can lift and pour a watering can, there are many options: ficus, gardenia, ferns, even certain varieties of fruit trees. Greens like these can thrive in the right spot indoors as long as they live in the proper spot and are cared for.
If you and your senior loved one would like to try gardening as a way to improve senior health and incorporate healthy and low impact exercise into their lives, there are many ways to do so, to suit everyone’s ability and personal preference. Hopefully, one or more of these suggestions will help you to get started.