From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published March 28, 2011 08:02 AM

Getting Older

Aging is the accumulation of changes in an organism or object over time. Aging in humans refers to a process of physical, psychological, and social change. Some dimensions of aging grow and expand over time, while others decline. Reaction time, for example, may slow with age, while knowledge of world events and wisdom may expand. Research shows that even late in life potential exists for physical, mental, and social growth and development. With that said for some people getting old means losing quality of life and wellness. Does gardening contribute to quality of life and increased wellness for older adults? Researchers from the Texas A&M and Texas State Universities asked these questions in a survey of people aged 50 and older. The survey revealed some compelling reasons for older adults to get themselves out in the garden.

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Aime Sommerfeld, Jayne Zajicek, and Tina Waliczek designed a questionnaire to investigate older adult gardeners' and nongardeners' perceptions of personal life satisfaction and levels of physical activity. According to Sommerfeld, lead author of the study published in HortTechnology: "The primary focus of the study was to determine if gardening had a positive impact on perceptions of quality of life and levels of physical activity of older adults when compared with nongardeners".
Gardening can provide moderate exercise for an older person and help maintain healthy ways. Also what one grows and then eats may be useful in maintaining a healthier lifestyle. Gardening ranges in scale from fruit orchards, to long boulevard plantings to residential yards including lawns and foundation plantings, to large or small containers grown inside or outside. Gardening may be very specialized, with only one type of plant grown, or involve a large number of different plants in mixed plantings. It involves an active participation in the growing of plants, and tends to be labor intensive. Gardening can be a hobby and hobbies engage a person actively and positively and thereby improves their quality of life.

To find out more about the health and attitudes of older adult who garden, Sommerfeld and colleagues designed a survey based on the Life Satisfaction Inventory A (LSIA), a tool that measures five components of quality of life: zest for life, resolution and fortitude, congruence between desired and achieved goals, physical, psychological, and social self-concept, and optimism.

The researchers found significant differences in overall life satisfaction scores, with gardeners receiving higher mean scores (indicating more positive results) on the LSIA. The authors explained explained: "More than 84% of gardeners agreed with the statement, ''I have made plans for things I'll be doing a month or a year from now'' compared with only 68% of nongardeners." Significant differences between gardeners and nongardeners were also noted in the energy level statement, ''I feel old and somewhat tired''. Gardeners disagreed with the statement at a rate of 70.9%, whereas 57.3% of nongardeners disagreed with the statement.

Older adults who garden also reported a higher level of daily physical activity compared to nongardening respondents. Over three times as many nongardeners (14.71%) considered themselves to be "quite inactive.", while only 4.43% of gardener said the same. "Almost twice as many gardeners (38%) considered themselves to be "very active" compared with only 19.6% of nongardeners", noted the study.

More than 75% of gardeners who participated in the survey rated their health as either ''very good'' or ''excellent'. Gardeners also reported eating more fruit and vegetables because of their exposure to gardening. "These factors, in conjunction with higher physical activity, result in healthier lifestyles and increased quality of life", the researchers wrote.

The study presents strong evidence that gardening can be an effective way for older adults to increase life satisfaction while also increasing physical activity. "In a time when older adults are living longer and enjoying more free time, gardening offers the opportunity to fulfill needs created by changing lifestyles. Gardening provides participants with opportunities to reconnect with themselves through nature and a healthy activity to enhance their quality of life", Sommerfeld concluded.

For further information: http://horttech.ashspublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/20/4/705 or http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-03/asfh-wmz031711.php

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