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Posted: April 06, 2005

Professional Caregiving

Gardening for Your Health

I am barefoot, and my nails have dirt under them. No, I have not gone the way of the hobo (although there are days when the idea of riding the rails, whichever way they take me, sounds pretty good!). I am reconnecting with the outdoors, the garden, reacquainting myself with the returning perennials poking their heads out of the mulch, moving pots outdoors and just generally enjoying the sun, the warmth and the freshness of spring.

The fact that I have self-diagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder is another reason why sunshine, warmth and physical activity make me feel so good.

Studies have shown that gardening, like so many other outdoor activities, are calming, improve people's disposition and can help fight the doldrums from seasonally affected depression by combining sunlight, with purposeful activity. There are many self-help activities that can help elevate the mood of seniors. Having a "glass half-full" rather than "glass half-empty" attitude is useful. Adding that state of mind to any of the following may fire-up your imagination and take your mind off of your troubles:

  • mild exercise (walking or even chair exercise)
  • music (listening, sing-alongs)
  • pets (stroking animals has been shown to elevate mood)
  • gardening or other hobbies

Sally Brumption, a writer and now active gardener tells about how gardening pulled her out of a two-year depression in an article titled, "Digging Towards the Light," on the British website Gardening.Telegraph.

"Fortunately, this was absolutely my intention when I designed the garden. I was just emerging from a two-year depression which had robbed me not only of hope but of life, too. It was this garden that pulled me through. It didn't exist then, except in my head, but all through the long dark nights and darker days I planned it. ?"

Even if relieving depression is not the goal, one's mood is often bolstered after working in the garden. Intergenerational programs are perfect for gardening projects. Those of every age and ability can participate. Designing the garden area, or maybe just selecting the pots and flower boxes, selecting the flowers, color combinations, grasses or vines - a job for all. Some can do the digging and preparing the soil, others can water the new plants. We have a group of eagle scouts working with our adult day centers to build us flower boxes and picnic benches for our gardens.

I believe that we have activity cycles tied to the seasons and planting of which gardening is my favorite. Many communities have neighborhood gardens, or community plots where designated gardens are tended and doted upon by those folks who like me, can't wait to get their hands in the soil again.

Look around your place of work, your neighborhood. Are the daffodils, pansies and spring flowers out? What can you do today that will bring others in touch with this life cycle of renewal?

If the planting and watering is too physically demanding, one can sit back and admire the activity. Filling bird feeders is an easy project that can be done by any and all, and has continual returns on the investment. Birds, their songs, and colors bring joy to the casual or serious gardener. Later in the summer, flowers that attract hummingbirds and butterflies will bring an even wider assortment of critters to watch, whether watching on patios, porches or out the window.

Do your residents have access to the outdoors, the tools and supplies for starting their own gardens? Contacting the local gardening clubs, botanical gardens or community service students are options that should be taken advantage of. The joys of planting flowers and vegetable, watching their growing, blooming and bearing fruit offers a palette of engaging work for older adults, their families, kids, our staff and volunteers.

Think of the hours, days and weeks that can be centered around these and many other projects and the improved sense of wellness, that have all sprouted from planting your garden!


Sylvia Nissenboim is a licensed clinical social worker and who has been working in the field of adult day services in the St. Louis area. She is the director of four adult care and enrichment centers for the American Red Cross and also operates a personal and professional coaching firm, LifeWork Transitions, specializing in caregiving concerns, adult day care management and other aging services, such as virtual coaching and family care giving support groups. She co-authored The Positive Interactions Program, is a national speaker, and has served as president of the Missouri Adult Day Care Association and as a member of the Missouri Governor's Advisory Council on Aging..

© 2005 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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