Some places in the world such as Nicoya in Costa Rica, Icaria in Greece, Okinawa in Japan Sardinia in Italy, and Loma Linda in California are known for their longevity. Dan Buettner studied these places where its residents live the longest.
People, who live in these places, share some factors, like daily exercise habits, a plant-based diet, and social support networks. These habitats are known as “blue zones”. But the most recognizable thing for such places is indeed the gardening- people above their 80s and 90s continue to garden.
Is it true that gardening can prolong your life?
Gardening is an easy way to accomplish the physical activity and outdoor lifestyle, which are the two well-known activities that are linked to a longer life. Dan Buettner said in a statement: “If you garden, you’re getting some low-intensity physical activity most days, and you tend to work routinely.”
He even collected evidence based on life expectancy, which concludes that gardeners live longer and are less stressed. The studies made on this topic confirm that gardening has both mental and physical health benefits.
Researchers made a Dutch study in which they gave the participants a stressful task to complete, and then they divided them into two groups. For 30 minutes, the first group read inside and the other gardened outdoors. The first group confirmed that they felt the same levels of stress as before. However, the second group, the gardeners, felt “fully restored”- meaning that they reduce their stress levels and had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol afterward.
Women and men in their 60s who regularly garden were examined by Australian researchers, and they suggest those who garden have a 36% lower risk of dementia.
Preliminary studies made among elderly people report benefits from horticulture therapy and garden settings, especially in elders suffering from cognitive issues, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Textures and colors of many plants and vegetables improve their tactile and visible ability (green is the color that’s most relaxing for the eyes). Additionally, sunlight and fresh air improve their health and can make them feel calmer.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to stop aging. But the scientists suggest that gardening appears to be some kind of “panacea” that can improve our quality of life.
But, not everything revolves around health effects- gardening has social benefits that increase longevity. Centenarians have the world’s highest ratio in Okinawa, Japan. Dr. Bradley Willcox of the University of Hawaii studied them and found out they maintain small personal gardens no matter their age.
According to Dr. Willcox, gardening may help in another essential factor in increasing longevity, saying: “In Okinawa, they say that anybody who grows old healthfully needs an ikigai, or reason for living. Gardening gives you something to get up for every day.”
Willcox explains how Okinawans value the high level of social interaction aka the concept of yuimar, adding: “Getting together at a local market, bringing your produce and sharing your latest creations from the garden is a big social activity. That certainly helps people feel grounded and connected.”
The connection with other people is essential. But more important in the elderly is the individual connection to nature. According to a study made by Harvard University, people encircled with dense greenery have a lower risk of developing respiratory illnesses or cancer.
A walk in nature is now prescribed in Scotland to treat a variety of conditions, such as anxiety, high blood pressure, and to improve overall happiness. And they don’t exclude gardening as a way to incorporate more nature into daily life.
Gardening can also help with a dietary component to prolonging life. The well-known “Mediterranean diet” that is rich in whole grains, legumes, nuts, fish, fruits, vegetables, and olive oil is linked to slower aging.
No matter the diet, the basic principle of consuming an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruits, ideally from your own garden or local ones, is important to longevity. For example, people in Okinawa grow sweet potatoes and bitter melon in their gardens says, Willcox.
He also says: “When you eat vegetables that you’ve grown yourself, it changes everything – they taste more delicious, and it really makes a difference in the health qualities (vitamins, minerals, phytoactive compounds etc.) of the food itself.” “Blue zones” expert suggests a diet contained “90% plants, especially greens and beans”. He mentions that it is more likely gardeners to plant and grow plants they prefer to eat.
However, gardening is not the only way that can help you live longer. Living in the country and lots of exercising also applies to farm.
Many experts believe that farming is one of the healthiest occupations. According to one Australian study, farmers had lower chances of suffering from a chronic illness, and are not prone to visiting GP. Researchers from the US discovered farmers are less likely to die from diabetes, heart disease or cancer. Similar studies have been established in France and Sweden and they all suggest that farmers are healthier than non-farmers.
In the central province of Saitama, Dr. Masahiko Gemma of Waseda University in Tokyo examined self-employed farmers and concluded that they have longer life expectancy than non-farmers. Many of them were retirees or part-time farmers who work later into life and he described them as “similar to the work of maintaining a garden”.
Gemma explains that his examination didn’t include farmers who work for large-scale corporate operations, saying: “Small family farms are common in Japanese agriculture.” As he says, self- employed farmers experienced positive changes in physical and psychological health after engaging in farming activities. “Our guess is that farming work contributes to the maintenance of good health and spirits,” he adds.
Nevertheless, not all farming looks like the traditional, low-tech Japanese model. In most of the Western world, agriculture is well developed as an industry; therefore farmers may experience various dangers working in such conditions increasingly automated processes, and high debt.
Thomas Forester, a New York-based food policy consultant to research organizations and UN agencies, says: “The reality of what agriculture is like, at least in America, is staring at a computer for as long as everyone else, running systems for broiler houses or hog containment facilities, or sitting in your air-conditioned combine watching videos while you go across monotonous GPS precision-guided fields.”
Therefore, farming cannot be taken for granted and viewed as a kind of magic against aging.
You should have in mind that neither gardening nor farming can ultimately guarantee a longer lifespan. However, some of the activities that associate with both, like engaging in physical activity, eating healthy, and going outside, might be of benefit.
In the end, Willcox adds: “I use the analogy of a chair. Diet, physical activity, mental engagement, and social connection are the four legs. If you don’t have one of them, you fall out of balance, and it can shorten life expectancy. Longevity isn’t about one single factor – it’s about not working too hard to share a constellation of them all.”