Wednesday Wisdom. Gardening could be the hobby that helps you live to 100

Many of the world’s centenarians share one common hobby – gardening. Dan Buettner the author of “Blue Zones” who has studied places around the world where residents live long healthy lives attribute gardening as one of their life hobbies.

Gardening leads to both physical and mental health benefits

Dan Buettner the author of “Blue Zones” who has studied five places around the world where residents live healthy lives to 90 and above such as Okinawa in Japan, Nicoya in Costa Rica, Icaria in Greece, Loma Linda in California and Sardinia in Italy – and discovered that people in all these areas attribute gardening as one of their long-life hobbies.

“People living in these “blue zones” have certain factors in common – social support networks, daily exercise habits and a plant-based diet, for starters. But they share another unexpected commonality. In each community, people are gardening well into old age – into their 80s, 90s and beyond!” author Dan Buettner

Being outdoors – Mood elevator

It is well-known that being outdoors and getting moderate physical activity is linked to mood elevation and longer life. Gardening is an easy way to get both. With gardening we can get low-intensity physical activity and get a mood-booster as well.

Tending to a garden can create a routine, of being outdoors to check on our plants on a regular basis. This routine researchers say leads to an anticipation of wanting to get a “feel good sense” when we are outdoors in the garden.

Reading indoors vs gardening outdoors?

In recent Dutch study, researchers asked participants to complete a stressful task, then split them into two groups. One group read indoors and the other gardened outdoors for 30 minutes.

The group that read reported that their mood “further deteriorated”, while the gardeners had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol afterwards, and also felt “fully restored” to a good mood. Pubmed

Gardening can help with dementia

Many studies among elderly people suffering from cognitive issues (such as dementia and Alzheimer’s) show benefits from garden settings and horticulture therapy. Sunlight and fresh air help agitated elders feel calmer, while the colors and textures of various plants and vegetables can improve visual and tactile ability. Science suggests gardening does appear to improve our quality of life as we age.

Australian researchers following men and women in their 60s found that those who regularly gardened had a 36% lower risk of dementia than their non-gardening counterparts. 

Let nature nurture you – the Okinawa Way

Dr Bradley Willcox of the University of Hawaii who studies centenarians in Okinawa, which has the world’s highest ratio of centenarians, at approximately 50 per 100,000 people, noticed that many residents maintain small personal gardens well into old age. He explained how in Okinawa there is a saying:

” Anybody who grows old healthfully needs an ikigai, or reason for living. Gardening gives you that something to get up for every day.” Old Okinawa saying

Gardening can lead to socialization

Dr. Willcox explains that Okinawans value the concept of yuimaru – a high level of social connectedness.

“Getting together at a local market, bringing your produce and sharing your latest creations from the garden is a big social activity which certainly helps people feel grounded and connected.” Dr. Willcox

Connection to nature

One Harvard University study showed that people who were surrounded by lush greenery lived longer, with a lower chance of developing cancer or respiratory illnesses.

Gardening – even on a small scale is a simple way to incorporate more nature into our daily life.

Outdoor activities lead to healthier life – farming for a longer life?

If gardening is good, is farming even better- right? Absolutely. Many of the lifestyle factors associated with longevity – such as living in the country and getting lots of exercise – fits perfectly in a farmer’s lifestyle. Some evidence suggests that farming is one of the healthiest occupations.

One Australian study showed that farmers were a third less likely to suffer from a chronic illness, and 40% less likely to visit a doctor than non-farm workers.

Researchers from the US compared mortality rates among farmers against rates for the general population and found farmers less likely to die from cancer, heart diseases or diabetes.

Sweden and France have also showed farmers are healthier than non-farmers.

Small family farms are common in Japanese agriculture as well. Dr. Masahik found that self-employed farmers enjoyed significant positive changes in psychological and physical conditions before and after engaging in light farming activities.

Dr Masahiko Gemma of Waseda University in Tokyo studied self-employed farmers in the central province of Saitama who were part-time farmers or retirees – many of their responsibilities were similar to the work of maintaining a garden. They also had a longer life expectancy.

Link between gardening and healthier diet

A Mediterranean diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, fish and olive oil have shown to be the most effective way to age healthy.

This lifestyle of eating abundance of fresh vegetables, is perfectly suited for home gardeners as they like to grown what they prefer to eat.


Pick up a spade, get your hands dirty, garden for vegetables or garden for flowers – get outside and have fun

I follow a cut flower farm in Washington state in the Skagit Valley called Floret– the owner Erin Benzakein has become world famous for growing and supplying sustainably grown and harvested flowers and seeds. She threw out her net for applicants recently for a scholarship for her workshop and got people applying from over 80 different countries! Here are a few of Erin’s favorite quotes that the scholarship applicants expressed.  

“I believe flowers are the most valued gift a person can give. They are what we go to to say I love you, to say I am sorry, to say sorry for your loss, and I am thinking of you. Flowers are feelings in a wrap. They say the things we often cannot. I grow for healing. For myself and for others.” 

“I wanted to grow enough flowers to create abundance. And then share that abundance with people who are going through a tough time. Flowers can be such a beautiful gift. “

“Gardening for me has been therapy, grounding me when the world around me was too much.”

Time to garden with bulbs in our gardens!

It’s fall, the perfect time to garden with bulbs. Daffodils, tulips, freesias and more are all available at the nurseries. Let’s get out in the garden and plant some bulbs this season and reap its rewards next spring!

Happy Gardening!

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