Green and Grounded: Gardening’s Therapeutic Benefits

African descent grandmother and grandchild gardening in outdoor vegetable garden in spring or summer season. Cute little boy enjoys planting new flowers and vegetable plants.

As we celebrate Earth Day on April 22, let’s consider how gardening can benefit everyone, but especially seniors. Gardening fosters growth not just of plants but of people, providing purpose, connection, and tranquility.

After walking, gardening is the second most commonly reported leisure-time physical activity among older adults. Gardening can provide a holistic approach to physical, mental, and emotional well-being for older adults.

  • Physical health: Digging, planting, and watering can help seniors stay physically active and promote strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular health. The CDC recommends at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week for those 65 and over; regular physical activity can prevent or delay the start of chronic conditions and gardening is suggested for muscle development. Research has shown that gardening can lead to improved mobility and reduced morbidity and mortality.
  • Mental wellness: Gardening helps stimulate the brain because it requires planning, problem-solving, and engaging the senses. Garden activities can enhance memory, attention, and overall cognitive function. A 2019 study found that seniors who participated in 20 minutes of gardening had significant brain nerve growth, showing “the potential of a short-term gardening activity for memory improvement in senior individuals.”
  • Emotional connection Nearly 25% of Americans aged 65 and older are considered socially isolated and lonely. Reduced social interaction can mean an increased risk for heart disease and stroke as well as depression, anxiety, and suicide. The immediate tasks of gardening require focus, and negative thoughts can give way to feeling better. In fact, gardeners 50 years or older report less stress compared with others using different stress reduction techniques. Gardening can also nurture a sense of purpose and accomplishment, boosting seniors’ self-esteem while reducing feelings of isolation.


How can you or a loved one start reaping the benefits of gardening? Here are a couple of tips:

  • Look for community gardens. Communal gardens are spaces where seniors can rent a plot or participate in shared gardening activities. They provide opportunities to socialize, collaborate with fellow gardeners, and learn from experienced growers. They often provide amenities such as raised beds, paved pathways, and adaptive gardening tools – making it more accessible for those with mobility challenges.
  • Rethink what gardening looks like. Container gardening is perfect for seniors with limited space or mobility. All you need is a sunny spot, some pots or planters, soil, and your choice of plants. You can grow herbs, flowers, or even small vegetables right on a patio, balcony, or windowsill. Trellises, hanging baskets, and wall-mounted planters can accommodate a variety of plants.

As we reflect on the importance of environmental stewardship this Earth Day, let’s also recognize the therapeutic joys of gardening. A better planet and healthy aging can grow together.