March 18, 2011

Seniors Benefit From Gardening

According to new research published in HortTechnology, older adults who participate in gardening may be more likely to eat their own vegetables and have a better quality of life.

Texas A&M University and Texas State University researchers said that poor nutrition is one of several factors responsible for mortality and morbidity in the elderly and is comparable to deaths caused from cigarette smoking.

"Although older adults tend to report a higher intake of fruit and vegetables than other age groups, over half of the U.S. older population does not meet the recommendation of five daily servings of fruit and vegetables," they wrote in their report.

Researchers Aime Sommerfeld, Amy McFarland, Tina Waliczek and Jayne Zajicek said several previous research studies confirmed that gardening is one way to increase individuals' fruit and vegetable intake.

Sommerfeld, lead author of the study, said in a statement: "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."

The team analyzed the differences in fruit and vegetable consumption of long-term gardeners compared with newer gardeners by investigating a 261 questionnaire online survey.

"Our results support previous studies that indicated gardeners were more likely to consume vegetables when compared with nongardeners. Interestingly, these results were not found with regard to fruit consumption", Waliczek said in a press release.

They found that the length of time an individual put into gardening activities seemed to have no relationship to the number of vegetables and fruits they reportedly consumed.

"This suggests that gardening intervention programs late in life would be an effective method of boosting vegetable and fruit consumption in older adults."

A 2007 Administration on Aging report found that adults 65 years or older are at a greater risk for disease as a result of decreased levels of exercise and poor dietary and/or lifestyle choices. 

Sommerfeld and colleagues found in their survey that gardeners are more likely to have a higher quality of life than those who do not garden.

They found that over 84 percent 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 percent of those who do not garden. 

Over 75 percent of gardeners who participated in the survey rated their health as either "very good" or "excellent."

"These factors, in conjunction with higher physical activity, result in healthier lifestyles and increased quality of life", the researchers wrote in HortTechnology.

The study's results provide strong evidence that gardening can be an effective way for older adults to increase life satisfaction while 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.


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