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Gardening 101: Cultivating health and well-being

The Bottom Line

  • Gardening is sometimes seen as a hobby, but it’s much more than that.
  • Research evidence shows that gardening is an activity that can promote the overall health and wellbeing of older adults.
  • Before taking out your shovels and rakes, plan your gardening activities carefully: think about your health and safety, adapt your activities, and socialize.
  • Although many regions are still buried under tons of snow, gardeners around the country are starting to get busy. They are designing their garden plans and thinking about timelines to execute their plans, and some are about to start their seeds indoors.

Gardening is sometimes considered as a simple hobby, but think again! It is an amazing activity that can have positive effects on health and well-being. You may have heard people mentioning the therapeutic benefits of gardening, whether it is to maintain physical fitness, improve flexibility, coordination and strength, enhance physiological and psychological relaxation, improve self-esteem and depression symptoms, encourage creativity, and create social bonds (and even intergenerational relationships). Well, there is research evidence to support many of these claims!


What the research tells us

A systematic review identified 22 studies that examined the benefits of gardening for older adults living in the community or in institutions. The majority of studies included in the review revealed that gardening is an activity appreciated by older adults that has positive effects on their physical health, cognitive abilities, nutrition, spirituality and social engagement. Gardening can even improve their level of autonomy and their quality of life.

The review also revealed that gardening allows seniors to reminisce childhood and family memories. It is therefore a comforting activity for older adults who can reconnect with their past, their culture and nature. Gardening activities conducted in a group can also promote social interaction and community support.

While the observed benefits of gardening are promising, they may not be the same for everyone. The review highlighted the need to further explore the effects of gardening on people with dementia and older adults with disabilities.


Getting started

Before taking out your shovels and rakes, take some time to plan your gardening activities:

  1. Think about your health and safety: You may have a condition that prevents you from enjoying some gardening activities. You also need to assess your garden and the landscape to identify potential risks for falls, to protect yourself from the sun at all times, and to vary positions when working in the garden.
  2. Adapt: The gardening activities, the tools, and the garden itself can be adapted to suit your needs and capacities (for example, installing raised garden beds or using lightweight and ergonomic tools may reduce the physical demand associated with gardening).
  3. Socialize: Don’t go at it alone! Take advantage of community or local garden groups to connect with others, and share your passion and knowledge. By sharing gardening tasks with others, you may be able to find tasks that can better suit your needs and capacities (for example, digging, planting, watering, or harvesting fruits, vegetables and flowers). And nothing is better than enjoying the fruits of your labours with others!


Reposted with permission from the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal.

Do you value credible health and social information? McMaster University has developed the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal to give you access to research-based information to help you age well and manage your health conditions. Visit their website ( for the latest evidence-based information to support healthy aging. 


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