If you’re looking for ways to extend your life, and make those extra years healthier, here is some advice: try gardening. It is well-established that an outdoor lifestyle with moderate physical activity is linked to longer life, and gardening is an easy way to accomplish both.
In a study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, Dutch researchers wanted to find out if being physically active (whether through work, exercise, household chores, or leisure activities) might reduce cardiovascular disease risk in older adults the way it does in those younger than 65.
They found that people older than 65 who engaged in any amount of physical activity—even for less than 30 minutes a day—had a cardiovascular disease risk up to 14 percent lower than those who didn’t exercise at all.
According to BBC Capital, Dan Buettner has studied five places around the world where residents are famed for their longevity (“Blue Zones”). He found that people living in these places had certain lifestyles in common: social support networks, daily exercise habits and a plant-based diet. And they shared another key trait: gardening well into their old age. “If you garden, you’re getting some low-intensity physical activity most days” says Buettner. Buettner goes on to state that there is evidence that gardeners live longer and are less stressed.
In a recent Dutch study, researchers asked participants to complete a stressful task, then split them into two groups. One group was assigned to read indoors, and the other was sent outside to garden for 30 minutes. The group that read reported that their mood “further deteriorated”, while the gardeners not only had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol afterwards, they also felt “fully restored” to a good mood.
These restorative benefits of nature, some experts now believe, can lower blood pressure, boost immune function, and reduce stress. Gardening – even on a small plot in an urban area – is a simple way to incorporate more nature into your daily life.
If you don’t have a place to garden, consider becoming a Community Garden Ambassador. The raised garden beds at Community Thread were designed to accommodate people with disabilities, and are planted with vegetables ranging from Abe Lincoln tomatoes to Swiss chard. Volunteers are needed to water, preen and harvest the vegetables, which are used for teaching new recipes in the Community Thread cooking class. Creating and sharing recipe ideas is part of the role of the Community Garden Ambassador too, along with promoting the use of the garden.
Beyond health effects, the social benefits of gardening can also increase longevity. Dr. Bradley Willcox of the University of Hawaii studies centenarians in Okinawa, where many residents maintain small personal gardens well into old age. He says that gardening helps with other essential, if somewhat more ephemeral, factors in increasing longevity. “In Okinawa, they say that anybody who grows old healthfully needs an ikigai, or reason for living. Gardening gives you that: something to get up for every day.”
In the end, it’s all about balance. “I use the analogy of a chair,” says Willcox. “Diet, physical activity, mental engagement and social connection are the four legs. If you don’t have one of them, you fall out of balance, and it can shorten life expectancy.”
There is no magic bullet for aging well, but as the science suggests, gardening does appear to improve our quality of life as we age. Give us a call at 651-439-7434 if you can help us tend our garden. You will be tending yours as well.