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Tips for the Safe, Smart Gardener

August 18, 2021

Gardening is a great way to enjoy nature, reduce stress levels, get some activity, maintain good strength and coordination, and even get a little boost of natural vitamin D. A 2006 Australian study found that gardening could lower a person's risk of dementia by 36 percent. A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease in 2016 found that almost any kind of physical activity, including gardening, resulted in increased gray matter in the brain and reduced people's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease by 50 percent.

Gardening can be a solo or social activity or done with the gardening club at your senior living community. Gardens could be in a small patio in containers, or a large plot in your backyard, or as part of a community program. Whether you're planting vegetables and herbs or perennial and annual flowers, there are boundless opportunities to be creative, learn new things and stay active.

an elderly man with gardening gloves on

While certain conditions may make hobbies a little tougher as we age, like arthritis or vision problems, there are usually safe and smart ways to keep doing what you love. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Remember to stretch and warm up your muscles and joints before you head out for hours in the garden, especially if you're starting in the early morning. This extra step can help prevent strain in your knees, back and wrists. 
  • Give your knees a break by using a knee pad when you're working at ground-level or consider a raised bed, which reduces some of those awkward angles.
  • Avoid repetitive motions by rotating your garden activities and tasks every 15 to 20 minutes. This will reduce strain on your muscles, joints, tendons and nerves.
  • Take breaks! Grab a glass of water, take a stroll around the yard, or spend a few minutes sitting. Sometimes a short break is all you need to cool down, rehydrate or rest your muscles and joints.
  • Consider a wagon instead of a wheelbarrow. This mode of moving soil, plants and tools doesn't require lifting or pushing. 
  • If you have arthritis, use long-handled garden tools to reduce strain on swollen, stiff or painful joints. 
  • If your vision isn't what it used to be and you don't want to risk misplacing your favorite tools, buy ones with brightly colored handles or paint your own so they stand out in the grass. 
  • Be heat- and sun-safe! Cover up with sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat. Try to avoid gardening in the middle of the day when sun rays and heat are at their strongest. Keep a water bottle with you while you work, and take breaks for beverages, snacks, and to cool off in the shade or air conditioning. 
  • Wear gardening gloves to protect your hands from blisters, thorns, poison ivy and other irritating plants, fertilizer, and bacteria or fungi in the soil.
  • Avoid ticks, mosquitoes and other pests. Consider a DEET-based repellent to keep disease-carrying insects away while you garden, and check your body thoroughly to ensure no ticks have latched on when you're finished.  

Learn more about the gardening programs available at Embark from your community's Healthy Lifestyles Director. 

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