A guide to gardening for seniors

As the number of seniors in the United States passes the 40 million mark, or a full 14 percent of the total US population, many older Americans are wondering how they can stay fit and healthy through their golden years.

Low-Impact and Relaxing 

Increasing numbers of seniors actually view gardening as a great way to burn off calories and get their daily dose of sunshine. Gardening is a low-impact activity that often is a more palatable alternative to costly gym memberships or trudging along a treadmill.

Listening to the birds chirp as you dig into the soil can also be very relaxing. Moving from one position to another while gardening can also help improve bone density and enhance flexibility for seniors. Seniors should focus on a range of low-impact maneuvers while gardening; these might include:

-Stretching beforehand

-Lifting shovels or light bags of soil

-Occasionally kneeling

-Digging up weeds and walking

Great Calorie Burn

Research shows that just going through these rudimentary gardening tasks - from walking down the lawn with your mower to actually tilling and hoeing the soil - can burn between 200 and 400 calories! Best of all, this can all be done on your schedule and with occasional breaks.


Although the benefits of gardening can include a low-impact workout that burns more calories than even an hour's quick walk around the neighborhood, seniors are well-advised to take frequent breaks if they feel fatigued or if the outdoor temperature is in excess of 80 degrees.

Reap What You Sow 

It's been said that seniors who spend more time gardening are more apt to eat their own nutritious produce. That is, if you work on planting and growing tomatoes and carrots, you may well eat more of those yummy fruits and vegetables. Who would have thought!?

Horticultural Therapy for Seniors 

There's even a growing movement today in nursing homes and some drug rehabilitation centers that focuses on what's called horticultural therapy.

Horticultural therapy is usually conducted in conjunction with a trained therapist and a set of health and wellness goals in mind. The American Horticultural Therapy Organization says that horticultural therapy can have therapeutic benefits like increased happiness, lowered stress levels and higher wellness scores.

From actually planting the seeds to reaping the harvest, a doctor or psychologist trained in the tenets of horticultural therapy works with the senior to improve the senior's quality of life and tangible health outcomes, such as lowered blood pressure.

The Great Outdoors 

At this juncture, the exact reasons behind horticultural therapy and increased wellness for seniors taking up gardening are not completely understood. Some speculate that increased time in the sun and higher amounts of Vitamin D are associated with lower rates of depression in seniors and higher wellness ratings.

Other speculate that simply getting in more hours outdoors communing with nature and digging into the soil rejuvenates the soul. Or as the poet Henry David Thoreau put it: "I believe there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright."