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Aging Well: Gardening cultivates benefits for your health

From stress relief to a spiritual boost, gardening has multiple effects on your physical, mental, and emotional wellness.

This biweekly column is sponsored by The Mather in Tysons, Virginia, a forward-thinking Life Plan Community for those 62 and better.

A multitude of research shows that those who spend time planting or cultivating a garden can end up reaping a variety of health benefits for the mind, body, and spirit. This is good news for avid gardeners in the D.C. area, many of whom are transplants themselves from other parts of the United States.

A Passion for Plants

Lou Marotta had never set foot in Virginia before he moved here with his husband Michael after retiring from a career in interior design. A long-time gardener, Lou says, “I gradually went from being a doer — digging, moving things around, and getting my hands in the dirt — to becoming a creator. I think about the color and texture of a garden, and create composition. It’s been a 40-year transition.”

Lou says he and Michael plan to move from the farm to The Mather, a Life Plan Community for those 62 and better, when it opens in Tysons, Virginia, in 2024. “I’m a city person and will be happy to get back to that environment — though I love the idea of The Mather’s three-acre garden,” he says. “We’re looking forward to moving to a sophisticated community with like-minded people. And, of course, there are practical factors, like health care.” The Mather provides residents with health care services, should the need ever arise.

Another gardener moving to The Mather is Lavona Grow, who has a special passion for native plants and pollinators. “I feel it’s part of my job to plant what birds and butterflies and bees want,” she says. “In fact, before we move to The Mather next year, I’m hoping to get our yard certified as a wildlife habitat.”

Lavona has planted her Arlington yard with goldenrod — “It looks great in autumn,” she says — New York asters, lungworts, dwarf iris, a serviceberry tree, and some redbud trees. She adds, “I like to use pots, because you can move them around and change them out. I like to play with colors.”

Whether planting perennials in pots or sowing seeds in soil, working with plants is good for you.

A Bouquet of Health Benefits

Multiple studies show that gardening is an ideal way to cultivate good health:

Stress relief: Dutch researchers found that gardening fights stress better than other hobbies. In their study, participants who gardened outdoors reported better moods and tested for lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those who spent time reading.

Physical activity: Gardening may not burn a lot of calories, but activities like digging and weeding are wonderful forms of low-impact exercise. The stretching and repetitive movements are good for those who may not be able to exercise more vigorously.

Healthy diet: A University of Florida study found that people who learn to garden as children or young adults are far more likely to eat the recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, and far more likely to enjoy them.

Mood boost: Researchers found that people diagnosed with depression who spent six hours a week gardening showed a measurable improvement in their depressive symptoms; this trend continued for three months after the gardening program stopped.

Lavona strongly believes in these benefits and more: “It’s good exercise, and I do believe it’s a mood booster. I think the physical aspect of gardening is a stress reliever, and it can even get a little spiritual, thinking about the interconnectedness of life,” she says.

The Mather in Tysons, VA, for those 62 and better, is a forward-thinking Life Plan Community that defies expectations of what senior living is supposed to be. It opens in 2024.

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