Gardening: Beyond the Pretty Yard

Name three things that help you relax and make you smile. For me that would be that infectious, pure laugh of a child (especially mine!), reading a good book and playing in my garden. Now if only the weather would cooperate!

In my past life, I worked in the communications department at a behavioral health organization. Because of that, I did a lot research on ways to relieve stress, combat depression and keep your mind sharp. One of the more regularly referenced activities was actually gardening.  I can’t say I’m surprised; my own experience tells me that.

Think about it. First, who couldn’t use a little more physical activity in their lives? Plus, while I hate pulling weeds in the garden but yanking those invasive little buggers out by hand makes me focus and helps clear my mind. (After I pull them, I put down Preen to keep them away.) Some studies suggest just being outside in the sun can help improve a person’s mood because it causes the brain to release serotonin. And there is something about turning the soil over then smoothing it out and making the bed look “pretty” that gives me a sense of accomplishment.

Then there is the whole “planning” aspect to keep your mind sharp. How’s that, you ask. Well let’s take my garden renovations as an example. Once I decided to add another flower bed, I had to research the best way to get rid of the grass that was there, gather the necessary materials then execute. Thinking through the steps (sequencing) makes me organize my thoughts. Next I took a look at the plants I have and tried to visualize what would look and fit best where and whether additional plants were needed and/or would fit in the allotted spaces. These activities keep my visual and spatial reasoning sharp. And I will use logic to determine if I should move or give away a plant that isn’t working.

Finally, when it’s all done I can look out my kitchen window and know I created that. That’s definitely a mood-booster.

May is Mental Health Month as well as Older Adult Month. Let’s celebrate our good fortune by getting outside – with your kids or your parents, if you’d like – and playing in the dirt. Admit it; it makes you feel good when you do.

Until next time!

Mary Gold