Study finds link between gardening and sharper minds

A study has revealed a link between gardening and cognitive (mental) functions in older adults. It found that people who spend time gardening have better mental sharpness than those who don’t.

Study’s findings

The study by J. Corley et al. is the first to test whether participation in gardening activities is linked to long-term cognitive benefits.

Researchers examined the lifestyles of 467 older adults. They concluded that those who spent time gardening had better cognitive function in later life than those who did not.

Interestingly, this was the case regardless of the person’s socio-economic status, education, childhood cognitive ability, health, and overall level of physical activity in their later years, according to The University of Edinburgh.

On average, 280 participants who frequently (or even only occasionally) gardened showed greater lifetime improvement in cognitive ability compared with those who never gardened or rarely did so. The results show a strong possible link between engagement in gardening and a lower risk of cognitive decline.

Study methodologies

The study was a long-term study, tracking participants throughout their lifetimes. Many of the participants took part in a cognitive test around the age of 11, and took the same test around the age of 79. The test covers various aspects. It includes questions about verbal reasoning, spatial ability, and numerical analysis.

Throughout the long-term study, participants gave details of their lifestyles and completed frequent assessments of their thinking skills up to the age of 90.

The full study paper was published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.

Cognitive benefits of gardening

Gardening is a key leisure activity in late adulthood. Engaging in gardening projects, learning about plants, and general garden upkeep, involves complex cognitive processes such as memory and executive function.

Another study, published by the National Library of Medicine, highlights further benefits of gardening among older people.

Exposure to nature through gardens and gardening activities can enhance psychological well-being through emotion regulation and relief from stress. Gardening provides opportunities to connect with nature.

There is a strong link between learning about plants, planning gardening projects, and mental stimulation.

Gardening provides opportunities for increased physical activity, which can prevent osteoporosis. It can also reduce the risk of some cancers, Type 2 diabetes, depression, and heart disease.

Overall, gardening as a leisure pursuit may maintain or promote an older adult’s psychosocial and physical functioning and therefore enhance their quality of life. A better quality of life has positive effects on other aspects of people’s lives e.g. increased happiness.

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