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Stop and Smell the Kale – The Health Benefits of Gardening
Gardening, along with volunteering on a farm (ahem, like at Woodside Farms), can have many health and therapeutic benefits, especially for older adults. While some health and physical conditions may hinder older adults from participating in garden life, many aspects of farming and gardening actually contribute to a better quality of life. Here are just a few health benefits among many that gardening may bring:
A study performed in The Netherlands concluded that outdoor gardening activities led to markedly reduced levels of cortisol as well as a self-reported increase in mood. These improvements were measured to be higher than other leisure activities like reading. These findings were among the first to provide experimental evidence that gardening can promote relief from acute stress. While this study provided some of the first documented evidence to support this claim, many have known this anecdotally for generations. It's important to know that when your body releases too much cortisol, you're essentially in a chronic fight-or-flight state. This increases your blood pressure as well as dysregulates your glucose levels, among many other negative health impacts.
Gardening Improves Your Immune System:
We've all heard of dirt therapy by now. Dirt therapy is essentially responsible for the mood boost you receive after getting a little dirty on the farm. But, as it turns out, that dirt all over your hands is not only fun to play in, it's also scientifically likely to benefit your health. Studies have shown that the bacteria found in soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, has actually been found to improve your immune system. This good bacteria can improve allergy symptoms, asthma, psoriasis, and even depression.
Gardening Helps Reduce The Risk of Dementia:
An Australian study found that daily gardening helped reduce the risk of developing Dementia by up to 36%. This is likely due to the use of many different systems while gardening: dexterity, sensory awareness, critical thinking, planning skills, etc. This means that spending any amount of time in your own garden or on a local farm on a regular basis can help seniors maintain critical motor and cognitive skills.
Gardening Improves Heart Health and Risk of Stroke:
The American Heart Association has recommended that all adult Americans achieve at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise each week. And lucky for us, gardening and volunteering on farms count as moderate exercise. Further, gardening is way more fun than running on a treadmill, which means you're more likely to do it. A large study performed in Stockholm showed that regular gardening cuts the risk of strokes and heart attacks by up to 30% for those over 60. Additionally, just 10 minutes of exposed skin without sunscreen helps provide you with enough vitamin D to reduce the risks of heart disease, osteoporosis, and other cancers.
Gardening and Farm Volunteering Provide Good Exercise, as Well As A Structured Schedule:
Our volunteer days on the farm are every Friday from 9 am-noon. And while spending a morning on the farm may not seem as vigorous a workout as running or riding a bike, it's still a heart-healthy exercise. Protecting your heart through exercise has also been shown to help slow down many other facets of the aging process. While adding Friday volunteer days to your calendar, don't forget to schedule in a few extra minutes for some light stretching before and after. And if you're like me, having this in your weekly schedule will help guarantee that you actually do it. If the farm didn't beat up my muscles every day, I don't know how often I would remember to stretch or do yoga.
Fresh air, sunshine, and interacting with your community can do wonders for your mood and health. While out and about in the sun, you're also getting a little vitamin D boost, which as we know plays a large role in many health markers. It also boosts the levels of serotonin in your brain. Serotonin is a chemical that helps improve your mood and anxiety.