Quality of life is defined as the perceived quality of an individual’s daily life, that is, an assessment of their well-being or lack thereof. This includes mental, social, and physical aspects of the individual’s life. In the United States, the cost of food is low. It makes up only a small percentage of our monthly budget. However, many people continue to grow their own herbs, fruits, and vegetables at home. Why would anyone want to spend the extra time and money on a garden? The reason is simple. Gardening is an activity that many people enjoy. Research shows that gardening can increase a person’s quality of life in the areas of mental, social, and physical health.
As people get older they typically see a decline in their memory, as well as other aspects of mental health. Some seniors begin a dark descent into Alzheimer’s disease. According to Lee and Kim (2008), gardens can bring about a feeling of calmness in people with dementia, which helps to lower blood pressure and stress levels, and in turn reduces some of the problems associated with dementia such as aggression and agitation (p. 485). Lee and Kim (2008) also state, that being involved in garden activities that involve a cycle such as sowing, planting, watering, nurturing and harvesting, can help to improve memory and help to maintain cognitive function such as reasoning, problem solving and decision-making (p. 489). It also helps to give people a better perception of their own health and well-being and a sense of control over their lives. According to Gurski (2004), being out in the garden or taking part in a garden-based activity can help people with dementia talk about the past and remind them of garden tasks they might have been involved in when they were younger (p. 25). Talking to people about their favorite plants, what they used to grow or do in their garden or whether they grew fruit or vegetables, can often open up other related memories and can aid mental health.
According to Kim, Cho, Han, and Kim (2004), as people get older they typically see a decline in their social health especially after age 65 (p.159). Social skills can be developed and strengthened as seniors partake in gardening activities (Kim et al., 2004, p. 160) . In community gardens, residents come together to share land to grow vegetables or flowers. In time seeds, tools, as well as, fruits of their labor are shared. Conversations lead to friendships as social barriers drop. According to Austin, Johnson, and Morgan (2006), facilities that incorporate a community garden have a higher level of social health among its residents than that of facilities that do not have a community garden (p. 49). One of the main causes of poor social health is a lack of social reinforcement (Austin et al., 2006, p. 52). Kim et al., (2004) state, one gets social reinforcement through positive social interactions with others, having people to converse with regularly, and having a support system (p. 164). Gardening can be a very social activity. Some communities have gardening competitions where individuals can be rewarded for having the best looking garden and friendly competition can bring about social reinforcement. When people see how beautiful a senior’s garden looks they will complement that person. Gardening gives seniors the opportunity to network and socialize with other seniors who are gardening; this aids seniors’ social health.
According to Heliker, Chadwick, and O’Connell (2000), horticulture scientists at Kansas State University found that moderate physical activity through gardening improves senior’s mobility, strength, and endurance (p. 35). In fact, a single gardening session burns about two-hundred-fifty to three-hundred-fifty calories. The movements involved with gardening: lifting, kneeling, digging, and raking engage many different muscle groups, promoting hand strength, joint flexibility, and overall improvement of motor skills. Gardening has been shown to be form of moderate to rigorous exercise and exercise has been shown to increase physical health in seniors (Heliker et al., 2000, p. 38). Even moderate exercise and physical activity can improve the health of people who are frail or who have diseases that accompany aging. Being physically active can also help seniors stay strong and fit enough to keep doing the things they like to do as they get older. According to Collins and O’Callaghan (2008), making exercise and physical activity a regular part of life can improve health and help maintain independence as seniors age (p. 611). Regular physical activity and exercise are important to the physical and mental health of almost everyone, including seniors. Staying physically active and exercising regularly can produce long-term health benefits and even improve health for some older people who already have diseases and disabilities (Collins et al., 2008, p.613). That’s why health experts say that older adults should aim to be as active as possible and gardening will keep people active.
Gardening has many benefits for seniors. Gardening can improve mental health through the daily routine and physical activities needed to maintain a garden. Community gardens aid in social health through the shared use of tools, seeds, and space. Gardening can also improve seniors’ physical health through the moderate exercise gained by digging, planting, weeding, and raking. Gardening is not only fun but it has many mental, social, and physical benefits.
Austin, E., Johnston, Y., & Morgan, L. (2006). Community gardening in a senior center: A therapeutic intervention to improve the health of older adults. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 40(1), 48-56.
Collins, C., & O’Callaghan, A. (2008). The impact of horticultural responsibility on health indicators and quality of life in assisted living. HortTechnology, 18(4).
Gurski, C. (2004). Horticultural therapy for institutionalized older adults and personals with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias: A study and practice. Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture, 15, 25-31.
Heliker, D., Chadwick, A., & O’Connell, T. (2000). The meaning of gardening and the effects on perceived well being of a gardening project on diverse populations of elders. Activities, Adaptation & Aging, 24(3), 35-56.
Kim, H. Y. , Cho, M.K., Han, I. J., & Kim, J. S. (2004). Effects of horticultural therapy on the community consciousness and life satisfaction of elderly individuals. Acta Horticulturae (ISHS), 639, 159-165.
Lee, Y., & Kim, S. (2008). Effects of indoor gardening on sleep, agitation, and cognition in dementia patients: A pilot study. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 23, 485-489.
- Health bene’s from gardening…not from eating! (freedomtogrowme.wordpress.com)
- The Benefits of a Meditation Garden (proplants.com)
- Getting to be more green (veglyfe.wordpress.com)
- How To Plant An Urban Garden (proplants.com)
- Moderate exercise not only treats, but prevents depression (sciencedaily.com)