A new study by the American Society for Horticultural Science has found that gardening is the best form of exercise for pensioners.
It has also been revealed that pensioners spend 80 percent of their time sat down, and do not partake in any physical activity at all.
The research shows that just two 50 minute sessions of potting plants and watering flowers dramatically improves endurance, dexterity and above all – brain function.
After just 7 weeks, all participants who took part in the study had lost a significant amount of weight around their middle.
Over that same time period, elderly people who did not garden regularly experienced significant declines in their mental and physical health.
To investigate benefits of ageing in gardening, researchers studied 24 elderly people at an old people’s home. (pensioners participated in a planned ‘15 session gardening intervention’).
An additional group of elderly people, who were also monitored as part of the study, did not participate in any form of gardening.
Health assessments were done for both groups before and after the gardening intervention, which involved twice-weekly sessions for an average duration of 50 minutes per session.
Intervention participants did gardening tasks such as garden design and planning, making furrows in the plots, making name tags for garden plots, planting transplants, garden maintenance (e.g., fertilizing, weeding, watering, harvesting), and other activities such as flower arrangement and garden parties.
Activities were selected for the study to represent low- to moderate-intensity physical activities that would yield similar health improvements or maintenance.
Following the 15-week program, individuals in the gardening intervention group exhibited a significant decrease in waist circumference, while the waist circumference of participants in the control group showed a tendency to slightly increase.
Individuals in the gardening intervention group maintained their lean mass, while those in the control group lost lean mass over the same time period.
The pensioners aerobic endurance was also affected as the intervention group showed increased scores within a step test, and the control group showed next to no improvement. Those in the intervention group also demonstrated improvements in hand dexterity.
Those in the gardening intervention experienced benefits to cognitive and psychological functions as well, with ‘significant improvements’ being reported.
Interestingly, those in the control group exhibited a ‘significant increase’ in scores for depression too, with symptoms progressing from normal before the intervention period to moderate depression symptom at the end of the study.
‘Meanwhile, the depression scores of those in the gardening intervention group did not change during this period,’ the authors said.
These results come as no surprise to elderly gardening enthusiasts in the UK though, especially 70 year old Betty Sinclair, who has been a horticulture enthusiast for as long as she can remember.
‘‘I love gardening, I’ve been doing it all my life.’’ she said.
‘‘I would never allow my age to stop me from doing what i love… i’ll keep going for as long as I can. I even get my friends involved to get them out of the house. It’s just as fun as it was 40 years ago.’’
The researchers said their results demonstrate that the gardening intervention improved the physical and psychological health conditions of those who participated.
‘’Moreover, satisfaction with the gardening intervention as a leisure time physical activity for health conditions of elderly people was very high,’’ they said.