Everyone loves to play in the dirt. Kids dig holes and fill dump trucks, while grownups move on to digging holes and putting plants in them.
Gardening fills the adult desire to get messy in the dirt, but it also has many health benefits. From mental health to strengthening the heart, brain, and bones, gardening can keep a person fit and happy as they age. Here are six health benefits you may not know gardening can provide.
Gardening has been shown to reduce stress levels and help get people in a better mood. People who gardened after performing stressful tasks had lower levels of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. Not only were they less stressed, but they were also in a better mood.
Reduce the risk of stroke
People who spend time in the garden can reduce their risk of heart attack or stroke by 30 percent. Researchers in Sweden tracked the health of a group of 60-year-olds for more than 12 years and measured the fat, sugar, and clotting factor in their blood. High levels of activity like gardening were associated with about 30 percent lower risk of heart attack, stroke, and death by other causes.
Get some exercise
Spending time in the garden can help you get some exercise. Various activities can give you a good burn, from high-intensity yard work like mowing the lawn and tilling the garden to lower intensity work like watering the lawn or planting seeds. Just 30 minutes of yard work can burn between 100 and 300 calories for an average-sized person.
According to Michael Thompson, life enrichment director at Parke View Rehabilitation & Care Center, exercise should be a part of everybody’s daily routine. “Getting 30 minutes of exercise a day helps people fight obesity and heart disease and keep muscles and bones strong,” he says. “Gardening is an excellent way to get regular exercise and add some variety to your workout routine.”
Reduce the risk of dementia
Getting your hands dirty working in the soil could help your brain stay healthy as you age. Researchers recently found that daily gardening reduced the risk of developing dementia by 36 percent. So pick up your pruning shears and head outside for some daily yard work.
Research from the University of Arkansas found that women who garden at least once a week had higher bone density than women who exercised in other ways. Gardening involves a variety of weight-bearing exercises, such as digging, pulling weeds, and mowing the lawn.
It is common for people to lose some hand strength and dexterity as they age, but frequent gardening could put a stop to that. Older adults who garden have better hand strength than those who do not garden. Gardening involves a lot of working with the hands, like shoveling, planting, mixing soil, and trimming, and these activities keep hands strong.
Gardening provides a host of benefits that can keep you healthy well into your golden years. Whether you have a home garden, a community garden, or a pot on your porch, your health can improve by caring for and cultivating your plot. So, take this excuse to go outside, dig in the dirt, and get your hands dirty.
A version of this article was published by The OC Register. It has been republished here with permission.