Why You Should Garden When You Retire?

I’ve talked with hundreds, if not thousands of retirees over the years.

Before I retired as a Financial Advisor, I had spoken with many people preparing for retirement. A common concern they had related to their health.

Now that I help people with Medicare Insurance, I’m even more interested in my clients’ (and my) health. So, how can I maintain my health in retirement?  

I made a discovery: A surprising way of keeping healthy, both physically and mentally, is gardening.

Let’s talk about gardening’s physical benefits first.

Make no bones about it

One pretty obvious benefit is the fact that you are outside.

Being outside not only means body-moving exercise, it also means that your body will create more Vitamin D from exposure to sunlight, even with the sunscreen and UV-rated sunglasses you should be wearing. 

Why you should garden when you retire

We can produce between 8,000 and 50,000 IU of Vitamin D in just a half hour!  

Foods such as fish and fortified foods such as milk also contain Vitamin D, but Americans rarely get enough of it.

Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. (National Institutes of Health). And we need to absorb calcium to protect our bones. 

But did you know bones aren’t the only thing that Vitamin D helps? It also boosts your immune system.

Sweating to the greenery

We all know that moving our bodies is good for us, but did you know that gardening is actually a physical activity?

You can maintain muscle tone by working in your garden. Not only that, but you can be so focused on pulling weeds, reaching and bending that you might not even realize that you are exercising.

Why you should garden when you retire

And, when you are gardening, you’re using different muscles and that can mean fewer repetitive use injuries than you might get at the gym. Every day of gardening is different.

You might not realize that gardening can burn so many calories. It’s considered a moderate exercise, and you can actually burn over 300 calories an hour by performing yard work and light gardening, according to the UNC.

And, according to the American Journal of Public Health, a study in 2013 found that people who took part in a Community Garden Program had significantly lower BMI scores than their non-gardening peers. 

And, if you’re reading this in the COVID era, it’s something you can do outside, socially distanced, and with less risk of exposure than going to a gym!

Gardening Helps With Stress

Aside from the aerobic and calorie burning benefits, gardening also helps with stress.  Healtline cited a Netherlands study where 2 sets of participants were given a stressful task. One group was told to read afterwards, and the other was told to garden afterwards.  

Not only did the gardeners have better reported moods, but they also had lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, according to their blood tests.

Why you should garden when you retire

When I tended my own Community Garden plot in San Marcos, CA, I used to love the feel of being outside, connected to the earth.

Watching plants grow larger and produce fruit gave me the feeling of being connected to them. 

And I’m not alone. Some hospitals actually use gardening in their rehabilitation programs.

NYU Langone has a horticultural therapy program that helps patients with their mental and physical health. Being able to take care of something helps them in their recovery process.

It gives the people a chance to focus on something other than themselves, with a goal in mind. For me, it’s helpful just to see things growing.

And it can also lower your blood pressure.  

Just 30 minutes of moderate-level physical activity most days of the week can prevent and control high blood pressure. In fact, The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends gardening or raking leaves for 30-45 minutes as examples of how to hit that recommended amount.1

Gardening Provides Fresh Food

Let’s not forget the obvious. Fresh vegetables and fruits can help your diet. According to the CDC, only 1 in 10 American adults meet the recommendation of 2 cups of veggies and 1 ½ cups of fruit every day. But gardening can help.

Why you should garden when you retire

The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences conducted research in 2016 that showed that gardening helps people create lasting eating habits.  

And remember that there have been many studies that show the benefits of the Mediterranean diet.

This diet is plant based, minimizing processed foods, and is doctor recommended for heart health and longevity.

Growing your own plants can help you eat more of them. And they will more likely be fresher than the plants you purchase at the grocery store.

Gardening can help prevent Dementia

Did you know that gardening can help protect your brain? There is a connection between your heart and your brain, and doctors can tell you that exercise improves your cognitive function.

Why you should garden when you retire

In one study, Korean researchers asked memory care residents to perform a 20 minute gardening activity. When the residents were done, they had increased amounts of some brain nerve growth factors.  

A 2006 study found that gardening could lower risk of dementia by 36 percent. Researchers tracked more than 2,800 people over the age of 60 for 16 years and concluded that physical activity, particularly gardening, could reduce the incidence of dementia in future years.2 

A 36% reduction is significant and, speaking as someone who’s had dementia in my family, if gardening can provide benefits to my brain, I’m in!

Gardening Helps Your Mindset

But it’s not just your brain.  It’s also your mindset that gardening can help.

Connecting to the environment can be a sort of meditation. Listening to the sounds such as birds, water, and other outdoor noises, as you weed, can ground you.

Having a garden means having a relationship with the earth, with the ground itself. Tending a living, growing plant is almost like being a parent.

Why you should garden when you retire

There is a satisfaction that comes from seeing a plant come up from a tiny seed, caring for it, helping it get strong, and then finally, letting it share its nutrients with you, it’s caregiver.

Gardening can also help us learn from our mistakes. I was gardening a few years ago and the little girl (about 7) next door came to help me tidy up the garden.

I showed her what to do, and she started cutting. I had one little pumpkin in my plot that I’d been nursing to become a giant pumpkin. She accidentally cut the plant so the pumpkin was no longer attached. 

I showed her what she had done, without being harsh, but I let her know what the consequences were— we would not have the pumpkin we planned for Halloween. 

Rather than following my husband’s suggestion to get another pumpkin starter, I just let go of the giant pumpkin idea.

Why you should garden when you retire

I wanted her to learn that sometimes mistakes cannot be reversed, but that we can always learn from them, and not make the same mistake again.

It was too late to grow another one. The pumpkin never appeared. She learned from her mistake, and it helped her to go more slowly when she was helping me.

She also learned that nothing is perfect.  But in the garden, as in life, that’s OK.

And the whole experience helped me to learn acceptance. Even though I had nurtured this pumpkin, hoping it would grow into a giant, it never would.

I was heartbroken, but I moved on. We are never in control of mother nature.  We learn to “let go”.

That year I watched the little girl build her self-esteem as she helped me in my garden. That is a year I will always think of fondly.

Gardening Makes you Happy

Did you know that a bacteria that lives in the soil (M. vaccae) increases serotonin levels and reduces anxiety?  Digging in the dirt can make you happy!

In addition to this bacteria, the very act of growing plants gives you something to look forward to.  A 2017 meta-analysis linked gardening with quality of life increases and decreases in mood disturbance.  

Why you should garden when you retire

When people garden, they feel less depressed and anxious.  In a multi-year study published in 2011, people with depression improved significantly after 12 weeks of gardening, and the improvements lasted for months after the intervention.

Gardening Communally

When the little girl next door was helping me garden, we experienced a connection that we didn’t experience indoors. I had a Community Garden plot and I felt that same connection with my fellow gardeners.

Many of us became friends because we had gardening in common. I used to love walking through the garden to see what everyone was growing. Sometimes I would find plants I never knew existed. It was magical.

After people retire, many of us struggle because we don’t have a single place to go to socialize anymore. There is no “water cooler” after retirement. Community gardens can be a great way to socialize while also providing neighborhood benefits.  

Why you should garden when you retire

By partaking in Community Gardens, you don’t need to weed alone.  

Take precautions

Of course, before beginning your gardening journey, you’ll need to take a few precautions. 

First, talk with your doctor to make sure that there aren’t any underlying health conditions that could make gardening dangerous for you. Make sure your tetanus shots are up to date.

Second, pay attention to the chemicals you might use if you aren’t going organic. Some pesticides, weed killers, and fertilizers are dangerous if used improperly. 

Third, protect your body with gloves, closed-toed shoes, and other safety gear.  Bring water with you and drink it!  Take frequent breaks and don’t over heat or dehydrate yourself.  

And don’t forget the sunscreen and bug spray!

This post is written by Kathe Kline, Founder of MedicareQuick.com

Reference links:

  1. 7 Health Benefits of Gardening – Get Healthy While Gardening https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/wellness/a22109/health-benefits-gardening/
  2. 5 Health Benefits of Gardening and Planting, https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2017/health-benefits-of-gardening-fd.html, Kim Hayes

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Jill Sandy

Jill Sandy

Jill is a sustainable focus gardener. She loves decorating her home backyard with beautiful landscape design and creative garden care techniques she develops herself. You can reach her at jill.sandy@constantdelights.com

Chanh Ho (MD, MPH)

Chanh Ho (MD, MPH)

Chanh is our Head of Medical Review. He is a research physician at Oxford University Clinical Research Unit. After accomplishing the program of level 1 sub-specialty in Pediatrics, he was awarded the Chevening Scholarship for his Master’s degree of Public Health in the University of Edinburgh in 2019

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