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Gardening gives older adults health benefits


February 12, 2009
By Kansas State University

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older1NEWS HIGHLIGHT

Gardening gives older adults health benefits
Researchers at Kansas State University already have shown that
gardening can offer enough moderate physical activity to keep older
adults in shape.

Researchers at Kansas State University already have shown that
gardening can offer enough moderate physical activity to keep older
adults in shape.

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In research to be published in February in the journal HortScience, the researchers discovered that among the other health benefits of gardening is keeping older hands strong and nimble.

"One
of the things we found is that older adults who are gardeners have
better hand strength and pinch force, which is a big concern as you
age," said Candice Shoemaker, K-State professor of horticulture.

Shoemaker
is part of a small team of K-State researchers studying the ways in
which gardening affects the health of older adults. She works with Mark
Haub, associate professor of human nutrition, and Sin-Ae Park, a
research associate in horticulture who earned her doctorate in
horticulture from K-State in December 2007.

The research appearing in HortScience
in February comes from a study that assessed 15 areas of health in
older adults, from both those who garden and those who don't. The
researchers looked at measurements like bone mineral density, sleep
quality, physical fitness, hand strength and psychological well-being.

"We
found that with gardening tasks older adults can, among other things,
improve their hand strength and self-esteem at the same time," Park
said.

Although Shoemaker said that differences between
gardeners and non-gardeners showed up in a few health assessments like
hand strength, overall physical health and self esteem, results from
some of the other areas were more ambiguous.

"If we had a
larger sample I think we would see more health differences between
those who garden and those who don't, including in areas like sleep
quality and life satisfaction," she said.

The results about the
positive impact of gardening on hand strength prompted Park and the
researchers to explore this area further. They are now analyzing data
from an eight-week horticulture therapy program that targeted hand
strength in stroke patients.

"They did tasks like mixing soil
and filling pots," Park said. "They had to use their hands all of the
time, so that was good exercise — and they really enjoyed it."

Park,
Shoemaker and Haub recently garnered national news coverage for a study
published in the journal HortTechnology. The study probed the physical
impact of gardeners working in their own gardens. The researchers
showed that older adults can use gardening to achieve a moderate
activity level and meet the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention's exercise recommendations. News coverage included an
article in the Los Angeles Times, http://tinyurl.com/a7ub4q

The
trio of researchers also published a study in the journal Perceptual
and Motor Skills of the physical impact of individual gardening tasks.
They found that a task like raking, which uses the whole body, had the
most exercise benefit, whereas activities like mixing soil or
transplanting seedlings give the most benefit to the upper body.

Shoemaker,
who also researches gardening as a prevention strategy to childhood
obesity, said that studying the physical benefits of gardening is
important for older adults because gardening is a physically active
hobby that provides an alternative to sports or other exercise.

"There's
a lot of natural motivation in gardening," Shoemaker said. "For one
thing, you know there's a plant you've got to go out and water and weed
to keep alive. If we get the message out there that older adults can
get health benefits from gardening, they'll realize that they don't
have to walk around the mall to get exercise."