It’s Back! God’s Gym for Seniors

By Etta Hornsteiner
domestic gardening

It’s springtime and that means “God’s Gym” is open for business!

God’s Gym is the best outdoor fitness center offering adults 55 and older a variety of low-impact to moderate-impact exercises to keep you in shape and give you the opportunity to get some much-needed fresh air and vitamin D-rich sunshine after months of hibernating.

God’s Gym is the place where bodies are strengthened through gardening. Minds are refreshed through gardening’s therapeutic benefit of connecting with nature. Spirits are renewed through the quiet sanctuary of the garden.

Over the past two decades, researchers and horticulturalists have been looking into the health benefits of gardening especially for older adults. Gardening is the practice of growing and cultivating plants as part of horticulture. The benefits of this practice are so comprehensive that gardening is now considered an alternative to sports, swimming, running, and other exercises for seniors such as walking around the mall or going to an indoor gym. It’s natural, then, to think of gardening as a workout that takes place outdoors in God’s Gym.

The gym is open and it’s offering you full membership this spring!

Gym Membership

Your goal is to have lifelong membership in God’s Gym and to be able to enjoy the physical, mental, social and spiritual advantages of domestic gardening as you age.

As you grow older, ordinary movements such as leaning, standing, bending, stooping, and digging may become more difficult and painful. But these are no reasons to stop gardening, because the health benefits of gardening become increasingly important as you age. Therefore, plan to garden well into your senior years and make it a lifelong pastime.

The keys to lifelong gardening are:

  1. identify your individual needs as a gardener;
  2. adapt your garden and gardening practices to deal with changes in your abilities;
  3. take advantage of gardening tools, accessories and techniques to assist you while gardening.

Click here if you’d like to download an excellent publication describing the many changes you can make to ensure that you can garden safely throughout your life.

Working out in God’s Gym promises to deliver many health benefits

In addition to helping older adults develop a physically active lifestyle and gain much-needed fresh air and sunshine, home gardening leads to improved mental,  emotional and social health.

Research shows that without a doubt, older persons who garden enjoy better physical fitness, hand strength and psychological well-being (self-esteem) than persons who do not garden. But  older people who work out daily in their gardens get the best results.

Here are some of the specific health benefits you can expect from gardening each day:

  • Sharp mind and increased attention span, because gardening requires focus;
  • Reduced risk of dementia. Daily gardening can reduce the risk of dementia in later years;
  • Strong and nimble hands;
  • Weight loss;
  • A sense of purpose and natural motivation, because gardening gives you plants that you know you have to water and weed to keep alive;
  • Positive self-esteem;
  • Less stress and a more positive mood through interacting with nature;
  • Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack. Daily gardening can lower—by as much as 27%—the risk of heart attack or stroke.
  • Social connections either when you have a youngster to assist you in your garden or when you attend horticulture club meetings to share your latest blooms with other gardeners.
  • Longer, happier life. Many of the world’s centenarians share one common hobby: gardening.

Overall, daily gardening helps you to maintain a physically active lifestyle which, when combined with other regular exercise, minimizes your risk of dying from all diseases by 30% and enables you to live a happier life longer.

Hours of Gym Operation

When is the best time of day for older persons to go into God’s Gym? Go into your garden early in the day— preferably before 10 a.m. in North American time zones—when temperatures are lower, and you are fully rested.

Spend an average of 50 minutes each day gardening. You might be tempted to work out for long periods; but if you do so, you risk over-exposure to sunlight or dehydration.

Adopt a common sense rule about heat and humidity: No gardening outdoors when there is a heat advisory issued by the local weather authorities.

Find a Gym Location Near You

You can make any space near your home a garden. And the space can be on the land or on a roof, in an atrium, on a balcony, in a window box, or on a patio or vivarium. It is recommended that seniors develop their gardens near the house for quick accessibility or near to the driveway to decrease the distance needed to bring supplies such as plants and soil to the garden area.

Gym Attire

What you wear while gardening is important to your safety and enjoyment. You should wear clothing and accessories that would reduce over-exposure to sunlight and reduce risks of dehydration, insect bites, and falling or tumbling.

  • Use sunscreen and wear UV-protective sunglasses.
  • Wear a sun hat with a wide brim to protect face and neck.
  • Dress in light fabrics with long sleeves to avoid sunburn and protect fragile skin against abrasions. Take advantage of sun-protective clothing, which is specifically designed for sun protection and is produced from a fabric rated for its level of ultraviolet (UV) protection.
  • Wear gloves to protect your hands and to support dexterity and durability. Consider using specific gloves to make some tasks easier, such as pruning and digging.
  • Wear comfortable, protective shoes. Do not wear slippers or clogs in the gym.
  • If you are on medications, you may be at higher risk for photosensitivity reactions when working in the sun; so check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting to garden.

God’s Gym workout program

Gardening involves a variety of physical activities that range from low-intensity to moderate-intensity, all of which can lead to improvements in your health or maintenance of your already good health. Remember that your goal is lifelong gardening, and the keys to lifelong gardening are to be aware of your changing needs and abilities as you grow older and to adapt as you go along.

Here are some of the activities you would expect to participate in while in God’s Gym.

  • Garden design and planning
  • Making furrows in plots
  • Making name tags for garden plots
  • Mixing soil and transplanting seedlings — This activity provides the most benefit to the upper body. Specialists say that “better hand strength and pinch force” come from mixing soil and filling pots.
  • Raking — This activity uses the whole body and provides the most exercise benefit. However, there is a right way to rake and a wrong way to rake.

gardening

  • Maintaining your garden (e.g., fertilizing, weeding, watering, harvesting)
  • Arranging flowers
  • Being in a garden setting
  • Hosting or attending garden parties

Do not attempt any activity that would cause you to hurt yourself or that would aggravate an existing injury.

If you have or develop a health condition which causes decreased joint movement, muscle weakness, pain, or limited endurance, or you live with vision or sensory limitations, do not be discouraged, because there are several kinds of gardens you can make so that you can continue to spend time in God’s Gym: raised bed gardening, vertical gardening, container gardening and sensory gardening.

Raised Bed Gardening

raised bed domestic gardening

You can purchase or build a bed kit so that your garden bed is elevated from the ground and you do not have to stoop or bend to seed, weed or harvest as you would if you were gardening in the ground. Your bed can be tall or just 2’ off the ground.

Raised beds offer many benefits in addition to saving you money and physical strain and giving you better fruits and flowers.

Choose a raised bed design that will last a long time and a height that would allow you the greatest comfort as you garden.

For more on raised bed gardening, click here.

Vertical Gardening

vertical domestic gardening

You can take advantage of fences, walls, and arbors, or construct trellises to support plants or to hang containers at an accessible working height. Vertical gardening allows you to grow vine vegetables—cucumbers, pumpkin, melons, beans, tomatoes—and other plants within your reach rather than on the ground causing you to have to stoop to tend to them.

For more on vertical gardening, click here.

Container Gardening

container domestic gardening

Container gardening is “ideal for the gardener who needs to sit or who has mobility limitations. It is also appropriate for the gardener who chooses to spend less time and energy on garden maintenance.”

For more on container gardening, click here.

Sensory Gardening

sensory domestic gardening

Sensory gardening has to do with the selection of plants to stimulate the five senses. You can design an enjoyable garden area with plants that maximize the use of the senses:

  • Plants for Limited Vision
  • Plants for Fragrance
  • Plants for Touch
  • Plants for Taste

Adapt to get the most

Here are a few more adaptations you can make as you grow older to ensure you get the most out of your gardening experience in God’s Gym:

  • Install handrails along your gardening path.
  • Use a hard substance other than grass for your garden pathway so that a wheelchair can navigate it more easily and safely when necessary.
  • Use gardening tools and accessories that minimize the amount of standing, bending and stooping that you must do. For example:
    • Kneeler stool. The kneeler stool is used when you need to get closer to the ground and it can be used to sit on when you are unable to stand or lean.
    • Gardening cart. The gardening cart allows you to garden from a comfortable sitting position.
    • Ergonomic and Extender Ergonomic gardening equipment have soft grips, easy-to-hold handles, and a length that is comfortable for your body. Extenders for hoes, rakes, and trowels are available with lightweight telescopic or extendable handles that expand to 18 inches.
  • Carry a portable phone, bell, or whistle with you in the garden to summon help if an injury occurs.

Gardening can be a wonderful pastime that you enjoy as you grow older.  Do not allow changes in your physical or cognitive abilities to prevent you from gardening. Instead, adapt your gardening times, clothing, tools so that you can continue to garden. The physical, mental, social and spiritual benefits of working out in God’s Gym become more important as you age.

Be safe. Have fun. Be amazed. Give thanks.

 

 

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