By Edward M. Pendergast
It’s hard to find a downside to gardening, yet nearly half of Americans over age 50 do not spend time with soil, water, seed or plants of their own. According to AARP, 52% of older Americans spend time tending to plants. These gray-green thumbs enjoy at least six health benefits thanks to their horticultural hobby.
People living in Utah enjoy an average of 170 days of outdoor growing time between the last and first frosts of the year. Using a planting schedule helps maximize that window of opportunity.
Let’s face it: Vine-ripened tomatoes and fresh-picked herbs taste better than store-bought produce. They’re also more nutritional. Farm-grown vegetables and fruits are harvested before peak ripeness and transported to markets. And fresh veggies, beans, and berries are beneficial brain foods for older adults that can be grown at home.
Vitamin D From Sunlight
Problems associated with aging, such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and cancer may be connected to low vitamin D levels. The National Institutes of Health is calling for universal guidelines for testing and treating this deficiency.
Experts agree that without adequate exposure to sunlight, it’s almost impossible to get enough vitamin D. But it’s important to find a healthy balance. The same UV rays that help our bodies produce vitamin D also cause sunburn. Gardening can ensure adequate sunlight exposure as long as you use sunscreen after some initial time in the sun. This will prevent painful and damaging burns.
Gardening may not seem like exercise, but it involves regular bending, pulling, watering and maybe some raking and shoveling. The initial creation of a garden plot, raised beds or even smaller portable containers takes work. The maintenance is less strenuous but will still provide some good cardio, and that’s important for bone and muscle conditioning.
When you spend time outside, you have the chance of encountering other people who are taking walks or working in their own yards, gardens or patios. Particularly in the cooler parts of the day after sunrise and before sunset, gardening can bring about great opportunities for socializing with neighbors.
The vegetables, fruits, and herbs you produce also make for an opportunity to share. Gardens provide the opportunity to improve your life and the lives of others as well.
Before electricity, people aligned their routines around daylight and nighttime hours. Since then, our schedules have become out of sync. The Centers for Disease Control reports one in three American adults do not get the recommended seven hours of sleep a night.
About 30% of adults in Utah don’t get enough sleep, and a growing number take pills to help with this problem. A study by Penn Medicine listed gardening as one of the top activities for improving sleep, without the need for drugs which can have unwanted side effects.
Better sleep, physical activity, nutrition, vitamin D and socialization all reduce anxiety. Less stress leads to a healthier and longer life. Remember, gardening is more fun when done with a family member or friend. Quality time spent with loved ones doing an activity you enjoy is a great way to reduce stress.
And if insects happen to be a source of worry for you, perhaps you have a fear of or allergy to bee stings? No worries, you can plant flowers that don’t attract bees. Consider a few strategically placed flower pots, or even framing your garden with flowers around the edge and edible plants in the center, to create a bee barrier.
Edward M. Pendergast is a freelance writer who raises heirloom tomatoes in his square-foot garden. He loves all things in nature … except tomato hornworms, which had better run if they see him coming.
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