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Garden Your Way to Wellness

  • Category: General Health
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Matt Gougler
Garden Your Way to Wellness

Gardens produce photo-worthy beauty. Gardens produce taste-bud-pleasing fruits and vegetables. But, did you know that gardens also can produce improved physical and mental health, particularly for older adults?

April is National Garden Month – a commemoration that ATRIO Health Plans sees as a ripe time to increase awareness among seniors about the plentiful harvest of health benefits rooted in gardening.

Spring is an ideal time to test your green thumb and reap these rewards:

  • A newfound affection for bacteria – Not all bacteria is bad. In fact, a specific bacterium found in garden soil – Mycobacterium vaccae – is increasingly being associated with a host of potential health benefits. The growing list includes: strengthening of the immune system; alleviating symptoms associated with allergies, asthma, and psoriasis; and reducing depression.
  • A reduction in cortisol – Cortisol is a hormone. On the upside, it facilitates certain body functions. On the downside, in stressful situations, cortisol levels increase and can cause blood pressure and glucose levels to fluctuate.

Studies have shown that gardening curbs cortisol production and that gardening is a more effective reducer of stress than other hobbies.

In one study, participants were asked to complete a stressful task. They were then given the option of reading inside or gardening outside for 30 minutes. The gardening group not only reported experiencing better moods afterward, but their blood tests also indicated lower levels of cortisol.

  • A decrease in the risk of dementia – While further research is needed, one study concluded that gardening may lower the risk of developing dementia by as much as 36 percent. Because gardening involves dexterity and sensory awareness, it's believed that gardening on a regular basis results in older adults maintaining or improving their motor skills, endurance and strength. Studies also have linked the beauty of gardens to reduced anxiety in seniors with dementia.
  • A brain boost – Gardening requires skills such as planning and problem solving – skills that boost brain activity and help forge new neural pathways.
  • A workout in disguise – Although gardening isn't normally associated with working out, it does involve stretching, reaching and bending – all of which help build strength, stamina, and flexibility. Research has shown that even light exercise is beneficial, particularly for older adults.
  • A way to strengthen bones and improve your mood – Given that gardening is an outdoor activity, chances are you'll catch some rays. In so doing, your body will be prompted to produce vitamin D. Vitamin D increases serotonin levels in your brain, and serotonin is believed to reduce anxiety and increase positive feelings. Additionally, vitamin D raises calcium levels, which benefits your bones and immune system. That said, outdoor activities should always be preceded by an ample application of sunscreen. A wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses also are recommended.

Here's to good health and a bountiful harvest.