Gardening Has Positive Impact on Diet, Activity Level for People 50 and Older

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Lately, I’ve had a hankering to restart the vegetable garden I share with my neighbors. We’ve had a vegetable garden for two years now, trying to channel my grandparents’ ability to grow great produce. The first year we managed to get a great crop of Serrano peppers, chard and herbs. Last year, we added some new beds and my harvest increased to include jalapeno peppers, New Mexican peppers, chard, eggplants, herbs and red, yellow and green bell peppers. I spent part of Saturday weeding the vegetable beds in preparation for planting and thinking about this year’s crop. I hope to get the hang of growing tomatoes and squash to add to the bounty.

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    It turns out gardening has health benefits to people who are middle-age and older. Researchers from Texas A&M University and Texas State University surveyed almost 300 people who were 50 and above. According to Dr., the researchers found that those who grew their own produce ate more vegetables than nongardeners. Additionally, Dr. Rick Nauert of reported that these researchers found significant differences in overall life satisfaction scores with more than 84 percent of gardeners agreeing with the statement, “I have made plans for things I’ll be doing a month or a year from now.” That compares to 68 percent of the non-gardeners who agreed with this statement. Furthermore, gardening helps promote activity. “Over three times as many nongardeners (14.71 percent) considered themselves to be ‘quite inactive,’ while only 4.43 percent of gardeners said the same,” Nauert noted. And also noted, “Among nongardeners, 19.6 percent considered themselves to be ‘very active’ compared with 38 percent of gardeners. Seventy-five percent of gardeners rated their health as ‘very good’ or excellent.’”

    So how can people who are middle-age and older get started with vegetable gardening? The easiest way that I’ve found is creating a square foot garden. Developed by Mel Bartholomew, this style of gardening involves creating a raised bed that is manageable.  “The square foot garden is divided into a size and shape that gardeners of all ages, sizes and levels of experience can understand and cope with easily,” wrote Bartholomew in his book, Square Foot Gardening. “The system is simple, but versatile. It can be adapted to fit all kinds of gardening situations. Whether you want to grow all your own food or just enough for a few salads each week, whether you live along or have a large family, whether you live in the city or the country, with a lot of land or a little, you will be able to adapt the principles of square foot gardening to meet your needs. The garden will be well organized, easy to maintain, and attractive all season long.”  Bartholomew calls it a square foot garden because the garden is designed using a concept of squares measuring 12x12 inches. Each square holds a different vegetable, herb or flower. Planting is based on the variety of plant, how big it will get, and how far apart the plant needs to be from other plants to develop properly.

  • How much can you grow in this type of garden? According to Journey to, “One square foot garden unit measuring 16 sq. ft. (1.5 sq metres) holds an average of 130 plants and produces enough vegetables for one person. A family of four can have fresh greens in abundance throughout the growing season and beyond from only 64 sq ft of growing space (6 sq metres).” There are lots of resources online where you can purchase these raised beds. (I’ve got some beds that are 3 feet by 3 feet, one bed that is 4 feet by 4 feet, and another bed that is a tiered bed that is 4 feet by 8 feet.)

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    The planting and growing is relatively easy and knowing that you’re eating vegetables that you’ve grown yourself is very satisfying.  And it’s also good to know that research is finding that growing your own vegetables can have other health benefits.

Published On: March 22, 2011