The Benefits of Gardening for Seniors
Published on June 16, 2020
Summer is here, and so is gardening season! Our Community Members couldn’t be happier to get their hands dirty again, because the Victory Garden is a big part of Making Today Great! at V!VA Retirement Communities. We sat down with Laura Moon, the Lifestyles Manager at V!VA Whitby Shores, our newest location, to chat about the benefits of gardening for seniors, and V!VA’s pioneering Victory Garden concept.
Hi Laura. What are the benefits of gardening for seniors?
Gardening is great for many reasons. Physically, gardening is beneficial for everybody, but particularly for seniors. It keeps fine motor skills honed. Digging, pulling weeds, and opening packages are great tasks for certain types of arthritis to reduce inflammation in your knuckles, and throughout your hands. Those fine motor skills also keep fingers nimble, which is particularly important for what we call ‘Activities of Daily Living’ such as doing up the buttons of a shirt, using zippers, or opening cans or jars. Also, reaching and bending over those garden beds helps with flexibility. We sweat a little, too, which means the blood is pumping, so gardening is good for circulation and our cardiovascular system. And finally, there can be a little lifting too when safe, with bags of soil.
Wow, that sounds pretty intense!
Not really. Gardening is a gentle activity that isn’t as overwhelming as an exercise class. When I ask new Community Members what they’ve done in the past to stay active, many will tell me ‘taking care of my yard and garden’. It doesn’t feel like they’re working out, but they really are… They’ll be out in the garden for a little bit every day, getting their recommended 30 minutes of exercise. At the very least, they’re getting their vitamin D from the sun!
So, those are the physical benefits. What other kinds of benefits for seniors does gardening provide?
There are mental and emotional benefits as well. Watching something grow that you’ve planted and nurtured can provide an individual with a renewed sense of purpose, responsibility, and accomplishment. There is also a social aspect that brings people together, particularly when it comes to V!VA’s Victory Gardens.
Can you share a bit more about those Victory Gardens?
Sure! The name Victory Garden is borrowed from the efforts of civilians in Canada during World War II to help with food supplies while the battles were taking place overseas. V!VA has taken this idea of gardening for the common good and designed each of its Communities with a Victory Garden as the focus of the outdoor space. The gardens are built to be senior-friendly with raised garden beds and built-in areas for seating. This allows for easier, ache-free access to the plants and vegetation. Community Members work together to grow flowers to decorate their suites and our amenities, while the fruits and vegetables grown are shared with our Culinary Team to use in their V!VAlicious recipes.
The entire Community gets to enjoy the literal fruits – and veggies! – of their labour!
Yes, exactly! It helps us follow through on V!VA’s mission to create a place where people can live, laugh, and love. People have connected who otherwise might not have… I’ve seen Community Members who, since they’ve moved in, haven’t really spoken to one another, but now that we all garden together, we’ll end a day of planting or pruning at Perks!, our Community’s Bistro Café, chatting over a coffee or tea. It’s a lot of fun and very rewarding.
How does the Victory Garden address those physical challenges that come with aging?
The Victory Garden brings our Community Members back to something that they used to that perhaps became too difficult in their house. Perhaps the yard wasn’t level posing a slip, trip or fall risk. The Victory Garden is paved and flat, which makes it easier for our Community Members to walk on, or use their wheelchair or walker. Perhaps bending over, crouching or kneeling is difficult. The Victory Garden has raised garden beds so if Community Members had vertigo or back issues, they no longer have to worry. We even have garden beds at a few different heights to accommodate Community Members in walkers and wheelchairs.
That sounds like it ties in to the emotional benefits you mentioned.
It sure does. Many Community Members go from missing the ability to do something they loved, to being overjoyed. That is one of the best parts of what the Victory Garden can offer: enabling people to do what they love. And that’s important, especially to Community Members who are in Assisted Living who may love gardening. Nobody is excluded.
You’re adding a whole new meaning to “all-inclusive” retirement living!
[Laughs] But it’s true! For example, some Community Members who might not enjoy gardening can’t leave the building for specific reasons. They might no longer drive or have family nearby to take them on outings. And some don’t always come out on our shuttle bus. So, we offer a wide range of on-site events, programs and services. The Victory Garden stands out, however, because those Community Members can still enjoy the beauty of nature, and the sense of peace and calm that inevitably comes with simply taking a stroll through the garden.
That sounds delightful. Thanks for taking the time to chat, Laura!
You’re welcome – and thank you!
To learn more about V!VA Retirement Communities or our Victory Gardens and gardening programs, please contact your local V!VA location and speak with a Community Relations Manager.