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Gardening offers seniors mental, physical health benefits

While some people might assume the only benefits of gardening come in the form of tomatoes and peppers, experts say it may actually help seniors enjoy independence later in life. The constant activity that comes along with gardening can help prevent injury, but physical therapists recommend seniors take some steps beforehand to make sure they get the most out of the popular hobby, the Staten Island Advance reports.

The most important thing to remember is to treat gardening like a sport. While certainly not as strenuous as running or biking, older adults can still benefit from warming up before a session in the garden. Even if it's just a walk around the neighborhood or some light stretching, limbering up beforehand can be a good idea.

Gardening itself can help prevent injury, physical therapists say. Specifically, it can offer an increase in mobility and flexibility, something which can help older adults maintain their independence.

"You have to do whatever you can - corrective exercises and movements so you can do what you want for as long as you want to do it," physical therapist Joe Saraceno told the newspaper. "Now is the best time for anyone whether they are 70, 80, 40 or 30."

While gardening may help seniors reduce injury, the hobby also has some substantial mental health benefits. Perhaps most significantly, it can help ease stress and anxiety and boost mood. The findings come from a study performed by researchers at Leiden University and Wageningen University and Research Center and pointed out that as little as 30 minutes of gardening decreased the stress hormone cortisol and restored study participants' mood.

Seniors' mental health is a concern among many caregivers. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, depression impacts as many as 6.5 million adults over 65.