Gardening for Seniors; Applewood Residents Reap Multiple Health Benefits
Gardening proven to benefit senior minds, bodies, and souls
Take a stroll through our beautiful senior community in Freehold, NJ, and you’ll see resident cottage homes, terraces, and patios filled with colorful shrubs, plants and seasonal flowers. But some residents take their gardens to a whole new level and plant rows of heirloom tomatoes, zucchini, cukes, peppers, berries, and onions.
Besides looking great and reaping fresh-off-the-vine foods to enjoy, gardening also offers a plethora of health benefits. Scientific studies have proven that getting your hands dirty in the soil–even container gardening–has been linked to increased bone density because of increased vitamin D absorption.
In addition, senior gardeners also report improved sleep cycles, heightened mental clarity, lower levels of chronic pain and even improved balance—leading to fewer falls, which can debilitate seniors, even those in good health.
Other benefits of gardening for seniors include:
- Reduction in stress levels through promotion of relaxation
- Improvements in muscle strength and endurance
- Improves general well-being as a result of social interaction
Taking Cottage Gardening to the Next Level – Bill Henkel
“One of the best things about my garden is having so many fresh vegetables to share with my neighbors,” says Bill Henkel, who has curated an impressive vegetable and flower garden around his cottage home since 2010. This year, he cultivated heirloom tomatoes, more than 40 cucumbers, 12 large zucchini and a dozen peppers. And that’s just the backyard. When you pull up to Bill’s home, you’ll see a tidy presentation of several types of roses surrounded by an impressive variety of annuals and perennials.
Bill says he developed a love for gardening from his grandmother, who tended her own garden and lived to be 104-years-old. “There’s definitely something about gardening that makes you feel good, much in the same way as exercising.”
Mr. Henkel’s assessment is spot-on. Horticultural therapy is linked to alleviating depression, decreasing anxiety, boosting a person’s sense of stability and control. Dementia patients, in particular, showed less aggression with regular access to gardening.
Create Your Own Garden Space
There’s still plenty of time to create your own garden space, whether you plant decorative planters using early fall flowers or carve out your own space in the yard. The trick to getting started is to start small. While the excitement of planting a new garden can be thrilling, it’s also a lot of work and maintenance. Start with a few planters or a
smaller plot of land and expand it each season or year. Below you’ll find some tips to get started on a garden of your own.
- Try some vegetables, fruits (strawberries and pumpkins are especially hearty here in New Jersey) and fragrant herbs. You can find small plants in most garden centers.
- Place a small bench or chair in a shady spot nearby, so you can savor your hard work.
- Commit to spending a few minutes each day in your garden. Even in small doses, the fresh air, vitamin D and bending and stretching feels great.
- Make gardening a family affair—ask grandchildren to help pull weeds and adults to trim shrubs and dig-in larger plants or trees.
- Don’t break your back doing too much in one day. Pace yourself or ask for a hand with the major digging and heavy lifting.
Think Smart and Stay Safe!
It can be tough to come to terms with, but even simple activities like gardening can be difficult for seniors. Sometimes aging can cause some necessary tasks for gardening to be much more challenging than they once were. Some gardening safety tips will help to seniors to continue enjoying this health-boosting activity.
Remember, gardening can actually be a pretty strenuous activity for individuals. Be sure to take a few minutes to stretch out and warm up your joints and muscles before getting started in the garden. Loosening out your joints can help prevent an injury after a long day of being in the garden.
It’s okay to take a break
Breaks are a good idea! Not just because they’ll let you regain your energy, but placing garden benches or chairs throughout your garden offers a peaceful rest space. Taking periodic breaks can also help prevent injuries related to exhaustion.
Use long-handled tools
Investing in long-handled tools will allow you to work longer and harder in a day, as you’re no longer obligated to constantly bend and kneel as you work. The Arthritis Foundation has developed an excellent resource that provides more information on tools to help make gardening easier for seniors.
Raised Beds Means Less Bending and Standing
One of the most difficult parts of gardening for seniors is the continuous kneeling and bending that gardens require. To make it easier for yourself, or the senior gardener in your life, utilize raised beds! Building raised beds to the height that works best for you will allow you to continue to enjoy gardening for longer, as your joints will not have to endure as much stress.
Invest in a wagon
Wagons with large, sturdy wheels, helps senior gardeners in several ways. First, wagons are much safer than wheelbarrows, as they do not require as much fine control when maneuvering from point a to point B. Wagons are also easier to use in the garden, as opposed to a wheelbarrow, as they don’t require lifting or pushing.
Paint your handles
Vision loss is a common occurrence for seniors, and it can make it difficult to find tools amidst grass or flowers, which can be annoying for gardeners, but a serious tripping hazard for seniors. Solve this problem by painting the handles of your tools! Making them a bright color, such as a bright red or orange, can help your tool handles stand out amongst the colors of your garden.
Carry a cell phone
You may need to use it while gardening, but carrying a cell phone can help to prevent a bad situation from becoming much worse. In the event of a fall or other injury, a cell phone can quickly turn into the most important tool or device for seniors in the garden.
Ensure pathways are flat with no debris to slip on
Tripping hazards are one of the biggest concerns in any senior’s garden. Beyond just ensuring that the pathways of your garden are clear from debris, it’s recommended to use a cane or walking stick when navigating through your garden. Not only will having extra support make it far less likely for an accidental fall to occur, but it will also make it a lot easier to get back up off the ground by having a cane or walking stick around. Some individuals may find that they prefer to use a ski pole for these tasks, as the point is great for picking up trash or holding back unruly branches that threaten to get in the way.
Staying hydrated is critical for any outdoor activity, and doubly so for seniors. Be sure to avoid alcohol or sodas and stay loaded up on water or juice! Dehydration is no joke, and after a day in the sun it can sneak up on you faster than you may think.
Wear protective shoes, gloves, and clothing
With any sport or outdoor activity there is an expected set of safety gear that goes with it. For gardeners, the expected uniform is to wear sturdy pants, long sleeves, and gloves. As adults age, their skin gets thinner, meaning that branches, sticks, and thorns can inflict significant injury, and even lead to infection. Ensuring that you have the proper safety gear will help prevent unnecessary injuries from occurring and will keep you out in the garden for much longer!
Prevent sun exposure by working early in the morning or late in the day
As they say, “The early bird gets the worm”, and gardening is no different. Gardening earlier in the day can help avoid hot afternoon heat, which helps to lower the potential risk of dehydration. As seniors are much more susceptible to temperature changes, it’s very important to stay active in preventing dehydration and sun exposure, to the point that hats and frequent applications of sunscreen are highly recommended.
Live Life Beautifully at Applewood
Our active continuing care retirement community in Freehold, NJ (CCRC) is a safe and vivacious place to call home. Retirement living is a gift to be enjoyed after decades of hard work.
We hope you’ll consider living life well at Applewood, located minutes from the Jersey Shore and about an hour from New York City and Philadelphia. Call (732) 303-7416 to schedule your personal visit or attend one of our upcoming special events.