Nature heals. Nature rejuvenates. Nature connects us to our roots.
After a stressful day, a walk in the garden quiets the heart and restores a sense of peace. But the benefits don’t end there. According to the National Gardening Association, nearly 80 million Americans love nothing more than to sink their hands into the dirt and plant or weed a garden during their leisure time.
As we age, our abilities may wane a little, but gardening is an activity that can actually restore cognitive, physical, psychological and social skills in the elderly. Pam Welsch, greenhouse coordinator at the Special Tree NeuroCare Center in Romulus, Michigan, has worked with the elderly as well as other age groups in need of rehabilitation for nine years. She has been a certified nursing assistant since the 1970s. Today, she works at Special Tree’s 1,700-square-foot greenhouse, open year-round. The greenhouse has eight raised beds, built to be easily accessible for those using wheelchairs or simply to eliminate the need for bending. Other raised beds are on wheels so that they can be moved inside for gardening on rainy days.
“Gardening offers many benefits for seniors,” she says. “It begins with daily exposure to sunlight, because many people, especially seniors, don’t get enough vitamin D. Being outside in the sun is one of the only ways we can get vitamin D, and that helps keep our bones and immune systems strong.”
Welsch lists other benefits of gardening:
Cognitive—Gardening develops new skills as well as restores past skills, helps develop focus and concentration on the task at hand, and strengthens decision-making and planning skills.
Physical—Gardening provides moderate aerobic exercise and improves flexibility while enhancing gross and fine motor skills.
Psychological—Gardening gives the gardener a sense of self-worth and accomplishment, promotes positive attitude, and provides a sense of responsibility over an ongoing project.
Social—Gardening can improve social interaction when done as a group activity, bringing isolated seniors outside to work toward common goals. It is beneficial, however, when done alone, too.
“The sensory benefits are wonderful for seniors, too,” Welsch says. “With many seniors suffering from dementia and memory loss, flowers have a way of bringing back positive memories. And the greenhouse is just a beautiful place, filled with beautiful scents.”
Working in gardens often restores pleasure in living, Welsch says. Working with plants has been shown to reduce stress and lift depression. Association with nature, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, has also been shown to reduce pain while calming agitated behaviors, even reducing the need for medications.
“Part of the therapeutic effect is the emphasis on ...