For those with physical ailments, both young and old, finding ways to stay in shape can be extremely difficult. What many do not realize is that gardening, even when modified to suit those disabilities, can help one remain both mentally and physically sharp.
Managing chronic pain and depression which often accompany debilitating physical ailments is one of the primary benefits of gardening. With a few modifications to the traditional garden set-up, the hobby can become a useful tool to alleviate pain in the disabled and elderly populations.
The Many Health Benefits of Gardening
Even among leisure activities, gardening has been found to be particularly effective in combating the effects of cortisol, a hormone known to inflict the negative symptoms associated with stress. According to a CNN report, one study found that those who gardened experienced more highly elevated moods than a separate group who engaged in the stress-relieving act of reading indoors.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that moderate-intensity activity - a category which encompasses gardening's array of activities - decreases risk factors for a number of potentially fatal health conditions. It stands that those already suffering from chronic health conditions see similar benefits from gardening at a rate of 2.5 hours per week, which the study suggests.
Further, merely being in the presence of plants has been shown to have a positive impact on health outcomes, including elevated moods and increased likelihood of physical activity, which is a primary factor in combating further illness.
Gardening therapy - otherwise known as horticulture therapy - has been tried and studied as a treatment for several diseases and ailments. From substance abuse to Alzheimer's to veterans' many mental and physical ailments, horticulture therapy has shown to have a positive impact in groups who have both uncommon and common health issues.
As populations continue to age rapidly, legitimate tools to combat the health consequences of getting older should be embraced wherever possible. Evidence, including a study published in Psychiatry Investigation journal, found that improvements in self-esteem, memory, attention, stress and pain management, and sense of accomplishment are all particularly valuable in the elderly population. The same can be said for younger people with disabilities who experience many of the same benefits of gardening.
In order to accommodate the circumstances of the older population as well as those with physical handicaps, some alterations to traditional garden planning should be made.
Modifying a Disability-Friendly Garden
There are several modifications that can be made to make it easier to get out and garden for those with limited physical capability. Some recommendations do not qualify as modifications at all, as they are instead shortcuts that will save one from unnecessary time and effort.
One example of this is soil enrichment, which calls for the gardener to incorporate organic material and soil-enhancement products to create light soil which is easy to dig up when it comes time to plant.
Another area that can be daunting for a physically limited green thumb is weed control, a task which never seems to end. Farmers can combat weeds before they arise by mulching wisely. Mulching typically calls for a layer of organic or inorganic material above the soil which makes it more difficult for weeds to rise. Other recommendations call for a layer of newspaper or anti-weed mats beneath the mulch as another object which stubborn weeds must penetrate.
While it may seem difficult for those with physical disabilities - whether related to aging or otherwise - to remain active, gardening can be the ideal way to do so. With numerous, proven mental and physical health benefits, gardening forces an immersion within nature which carries its own health boosts. With certain garden modifications in mind, the more strenuous aspects of gardening can be limited as much as possible, in turn maximizing the joy that comes from consistent gardening.