Gardening gives elders a harvest of health

NEW YORK Fri Jan 9, 2009 5:52pm EST

A gardener waters a field of Orange Cosmos (cosmos sulphureus) in full bloom at Hamarikyu Garden in Tokyo August 21, 2007. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

A gardener waters a field of Orange Cosmos (cosmos sulphureus) in full bloom at Hamarikyu Garden in Tokyo August 21, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Yuriko Nakao

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Gardening helps older men and women reap more than flowers, fruits, and vegetables -- it benefits them physically as well, researchers report.

In a small study, 14 gardeners between 63 and 86 years old reported an average of 33 hours of gardening during a typical week in May, and 15 hours each week during June and July.

This level of gardening activity, "offers physical health benefits," Dr. Candice Shoemaker, of Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, told Reuters Health.

On most days, the gardeners met the recommended 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, Shoemaker and her colleagues report in the journal HortTechnology.

The investigators collected gardeners' tallies of time spent working in home and community gardens during May, June, and July 2006. They also observed the five women and nine men while gardening on two days in June and July. To determine gardeners' physical activity levels, the investigators also measured the subjects' heart and breathing rates during these observations.

Overall, most gardeners performed moderate-intensity physical activity such as digging, transplanting, turning compost, mulching, and raking during the 1-hour observation periods in June and July.

During late spring, in May, most gardeners reported spending considerable amounts of time each day on outdoor tasks: about an hour weeding or cultivating, another hour watering, and nearly an hour and a half on general gardening tasks, as well as some 15 minutes planting seedlings or shrubs, and more than 20 minutes trimming.

Shoemaker's group would like to see a similar but larger multi-location study conducted to further assess the physical benefits of gardening for older adults. The resulting information might be used to dispense "physical activity prescriptions" for health maintenance and improvement, Shoemaker suggested.

SOURCE: HortTechnology, October-December 2008.

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