Spring has finally sprung! The warmer weather is drawing us outdoors, and many of us are planning to make our outdoor living spaces more inviting and enjoyable. What better way to do that than sprucing up the garden? Gardening is a great activity for us to engage in during spring and summer. It’s fun, purposeful, and has multiple health benefits.
Gardening is a form of exercise
Gardening is a moderately intense exercise and can count towards the recommended 30 minutes of daily exercise. Research shows that regular gardening can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by as much as 30% for people over 60. Additionally, being outside in the sun can increase vitamin D levels, which has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. Gardening also helps increase mobility and strength. Keeping lesser used muscles active, gardening is a productive way of maintaining strength and mobility.
Gardening can boost brain health
Gardening has been associated with a lower prevalence of dementia and with positive health effects in several studies. Regular moderate intensity exercise may reduce the risk of dementia, mental health problems, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer of the breast and colon. In an Australian study, gardening was found to be more effective than walking, education or maintaining alcohol intake at moderate levels in protecting against dementia.
Gardening lowers stress
Research shows that gardening can lower levels of cortisol (a stress hormone). This leads to lower stress levels. It can also lower blood pressure. Spending time outside in the sunlight, gardening can also bring about a reduction in anxiety. Studies also show that gardening increases serotonin levels. Serotonin is the key hormone that stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness. Another interesting bit of research relates to the release of dopamine in the brain when we harvest products from the garden. Dopamine is an important brain chemical that influences your mood and feelings of reward, pleasure and motivation. The researchers hypothesize that this response evolved over nearly 200,000 years of hunter gathering, that when food was found (gathered or hunted) a flush of dopamine released in the reward centre of brain triggered a state of bliss or mild euphoria. The dopamine release can be triggered by sight (seeing a fruit or berry) and smell as well as by the action of actually plucking the fruit.
Gardening can be a great way to get some air and sunshine. If you don't have a garden, grow some herbs or flowers in a pot. Tending to plants and watching them flourish can be so therapeutic, and it also gives us a sense of achievement.
While gardening is an excellent activity to partake in, I have some recommendations for safe gardening. Make sure you cover all exposed skin with sunscreen, and wear a hat. Take regular breaks from physical activity and stay hydrated while you're outside. If you have arthritis or postural hypotension, consider raised flower beds or planters. If traditional gardening tools are too heavy or difficult to handle, swap them for lighter ergonomic models. Last but not the least, don't feel shy to ask for help when you need it. A companion could help you out with difficult maneuvers and strike an enjoyable conversation too.
This summer, let's stay positive and hopeful. This pandemic is far from over and I know a lot of us are trying our best to manage the many challenges it has imposed upon us. At in4MED, we can make this stressful time easier by connecting you to local support systems and being there for you as your trusted health advocates. As always, feel free to connect with me or leave a comment.
The author of this blog post is a Physician with over 10 years of experience working in the healthcare system as a clinician, researcher and educator. She is passionate about healthcare for older adults and strives to be a resourceful inspiration to caregivers.
*No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional.