All ages can dig into the joys of gardening, especially seniors who can also get needed exercise while planting, weeding, and watering. The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) offers tips for seniors to reap the most from time spent plunging their hands in sun-warmed earth and savoring nature:
1. Pace yourself to ease back into yard chores to avoid sore muscles. Stretch first, and start slowly. Once you begin working in the yard, change your position and activity every 20 to 30 minutes, and rest periodically.
2. Use ergonomic tools that are easier to grip. “If you have problems with arthritis in your hands, soak them in warm water before putting on gardening gloves.”
3. For seniors who prefer to sit while gardening, opt for raised planting beds and tall planters, with a chair nearby.
4. To limit kneeling, consider vertical gardening by cultivating flowering vines on trellises along outside walls or fences. Popular trellis-loving plants include clematises, climbing hydrangeas, and morning glories.
5. Cultivate plants that are native to your area, which usually require less upkeep and tend to be drought resistant for less watering. “Native plants also entice birds, butterflies, and other beneficial insects to a property by providing appropriate food and places to raise young.”
Other tips include gardening before or after the hottest time of day (between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), wearing lightweight clothing, drinking plenty of water to prevent dehydration, and wearing sunscreen.
The American Association for Retired Persons says gardening offers many health benefits, including exposure to Vitamin D through the sun; a 36 percent decreased dementia risk; mood-boosting benefits; aerobic exercise from pulling weeds, bending, and twisting; and socializing opportunities when working in a community garden.