Among adults over 50 who completed a life satisfaction questionnaire online, those who answered "yes" to the question "do you garden" scored higher on overall life satisfaction, physical activity, energy levels and general health, and also reported they ate more vegetables because of their gardening activity.
An online version of the study, which appears in the journal HortTechnology, was first published in August 2010.
Lead author Aime Sommerfeld told the press that:
"In a time when older adults are living longer and enjoying more free time, gardening offers the opportunity to fulfill needs created by changing lifestyles."
"Gardening provides participants with opportunities to reconnect with themselves through nature and a healthy activity to enhance their quality of life."
With co-authors Jayne Zajicek, and Tina Waliczek, Sommerfeld adapted the Life Satisfaction Inventory A (LSIA) to investigate older adult gardeners' and nongardeners' (aged 50 and over) perceptions of personal life satisfaction and levels of physical activity.
The main reason for the study was to find out if gardening had a "positive impact on perceptions of quality of life and levels of physical activity of older adults when compared with nongardeners," said Sommerfeld.
The questionnaire asked questions about quality of life areas: ''zest for life,'' ''resolution and fortitude,'' ''congruence between desired and achieved goals,'' ''physical, psychological, and social self-concept,'' and ''optimism.''
It also included other multiple choice questions to find out about levels of physical activity, perception of overall health and wellbeing, and to get the usual demographic information like age, gender, and so on.
The questionnaire was posted on a university website for 1 month, and the researchers analyzed completed surveys from 298 participants who differentiated themselves as gardeners or nongardeners by answering "yes" or "no" to the question "do you garden?"
The results showed there were significant differences in overall life satisfaction scores, with gardeners getting higher mean scores, indicating more positive results, on the LSIA.
Four individual quality-of-life statements in the LSIA gave statistically significantly more positive answers by gardeners when compared with nongardeners.
- More than 84% of gardeners agreed with the statement, ''I have made plans for things I'll be doing a month or a year from now'' compared with only 68% of nongardeners.
- Nearly 80% of gardeners disagreed with the energy level statement ''I feel old and somewhat tired'' compared with only 57.3% of nongardeners.
- Only 4.4% of gardeners considered themselves to be "quite inactive", compared with 14.7% of nongardeners.
- Whereas 38% of gardeners considered themselves to be "very active" compared with 19.6% of nongardeners.
- More than 75% of gardeners rated their health as either "very good" or "excellent".
Older adults are thought to be at greater risk for disease because they have lower levels of physical activity, poorer diets and lifestyle choices.
Studies suggest that adults can significantly reduce their risk of many chronic diseases by combining moderate exercise with higher consumption of fruit and vegetables.
The researchers commented that:
"Gardening is one of the most popular home-based leisure activities in the United States and has been reported as the second most common leisure activity, after walking, of adults older than age 65 years."
In the same issue of the journal, the same authors plus another colleague reported results of a separate study that found gardeners were more likely to consume vegetables compared with nongardeners, but they did not find the same result for fruit consumption.
They also wrote that:
"... the length of time an individual reported having participated in gardening activities seemed to have no relationship to the number of vegetables and fruit reported as consumed, which suggests gardening intervention programs late in life would be an effective method of boosting vegetable and fruit consumption in older adults."
They also found no link between people's reasons for gardening and the amount of fruits and vegetables they consumed, which implies that ways to encourage older adults to garden do not necessarily have to stress health benefits, and that the activity may appeal to a range of personal motives.
"Growing Minds: Evaluating the Effect of Gardening on Quality of Life and Physical Activity Level of Older Adults."
Sommerfeld, Aime J., Waliczek, Tina M., Zajicek, Jayne M.
HortTechnology 2010 20: 705-710.
"Growing Minds: Evaluating the Relationship between Gardening and Fruit and Vegetable Consumption in Older Adults."
Sommerfeld, Aime J., McFarland, Amy L., Waliczek, Tina M., Zajicek, Jayne M.
HortTechnology 2010 20: 711-717
American Society for Horticultural Science (17 Mar 2011 press releases).