It is widely agreed that
there are 3 main ingredients to achieving longevity. Regular exercise, a
plant-based diet and feeling part of a strong community. Being an active part of a community allotment or gardening club
growing your own food and you have potentially ticked all three boxes.
It has been claimed recently that gardeners can live up to 14 years longer than non-gardeners. Gardening is good for you, and not just because you're getting some low-intensity physical activity. Planting and other garden related activities help us build muscle tone, strength, and endurance. The various range of movements can also help keep us more limber and flexible - all without getting down to the gym!
National Geographic Fellow and best-selling author Dan Buettner is the journalist who first coined the term Blue Zones, which identifies five places on earth where folks are living way longer than average.
The zones are the Japanese island chain of Okinawa, the Italian island of Sardinia, the Greek island of Icaria, Nicoya in Costa Rica and an area of Southern California where Seventh-day Adventists live. In each of these communities, people are gardening well into old age – their 80s, 90s and beyond.
Okinawa is the star of the Blue Zones, with more elders than any other place on the planet. Most importantly, many of those living 100 or more years are living independently and without disease.
“Gardening is common among Blue Zone centenarians, but especially in Okinawa where almost all of the centenarians had a garden for most of their lives,” says Imatome-Yun, editor-in-chief of Blue Zones. “In Sardinia and Icaria, foraging for wild greens and herbs is also still a popular activity.”
The benefits are myriad, she says.
“Gardening is a source of daily physical activity with a wide range of motion, a way to get vitamin D from the sun, and helps reduce stress. Being outdoors in nature is also associated with better mental health.”
According to a study published in the journal Neuroscience, there is evidence that a bacterium found in soil actually stimulates serotonin production, acting as a natural anti-depressant. The theory is that just inhaling dirt can calm your nerves, or at least boost your mood.
Well known UK gardeners, Monty Don and Anna Pavord, would agree. Monty himself suffered from depression and cites gardening as actually saving his life. Anna, in a talk last month at the Bridport LSI, mentioned the good mental health that most gardeners enjoy is down to the benefits of the process of gardening.
Gardening can provide another element of staying well in later years and that is a sense of purpose or being needed. The act of nurturing plants, which are dependent on our care, can give gardeners the sense of purpose that many may lack in old age. It seems the pleasure of watching and enjoying the fruits of your labour is just an added bonus.
Anna Pavord is giving a talk this Sunday sponsored by Groves Nurseries and Garden Centre in the Powerstock Hut as part of Bridport Gardeners’ Question Time. Alongside Anna will be Jenny Makepeace (Local gardener extraordinaire) Cyril Whitlock (Groves Nurseries Vegetable Expert) & Stephen Griffith (Head Gardener at Abbotsbury Gardens)
Admission on the door £5 per person. Parking available. Refreshments and scones afterwards. Good disabled access.