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Gardening for life a healthy choice for older individuals


Walking and gardening are the two major leisure-time physical activities among individuals aged 65 years and older in the United States.

Candice Shoemaker, associate professor of horticulture at Kansas State University, said gardening is linked to physical health and nutrition, as well as psychological health and social interaction in older adults.

"We are told we should have 60 minutes -- recently increased from 30 minutes -- of physical activity most days of the week, something that can become more challenging to achieve as we grow older," Shoemaker said. "Gardening, a moderate physical activity for older adults, can be used to meet this physical activity recommendation.

"We are also told to have nine servings -- recently increased from five servings -- of fruits and vegetables each day," Shoemaker said. "We know people who garden tend to eat more fruits and vegetables, so gardening can also be an effective tool to improve our nutrition."

Shoemaker has created a model for healthy aging with horticulture to show gardening as a "potent public health intervention for healthy aging."

Once the model is set, Shoemaker said it can be used to adapt programming for older adults of all abilities to use horticulture to promote health and well-being. She said her goal is for the model to impact the quality of life for older individuals.

"Preliminary research has found that participation in gardening by adults resulted in significant improvements in physical health outcomes such as total cholesterol, lower blood pressure and lower mortality, as well as psychosocial health outcomes such as psychological well-being and stronger social integration," she said.

"There is a lot of isolation that happens when you get older. Gardening promotes social interaction, Shoemaker said. "Many people sell their produce or share their produce with neighbors. You have five zucchinis but only need one, so you talk to your neighbors to give the other four zucchinis away."

Shoemaker has been with K-State since 2001. She earned a doctorate in horticulture from Michigan State University in 1990. She received a master's in horticulture from K-State in 1982 and a bachelor's in horticulture from Michigan State University in 1978.


Fall/Winter 2006