Winter 2023 Newsletter
By Dr. Jennifer Peszka, Professor, Psychology
Dr. Anne Goldberg, Professor, Sociology/Anthropology
and Dr. Pete Gess, Professor, Psychology
During the past 5 years, Hendrix faculty and students have collected data with the goal of understanding variables associated with healthy aging by studying older adults in areas where people live extra-long/healthy lives (Blue Zones). Through this work, it has been identified that many healthy ageing adults participate in gardening. In collaboration with AGEC, we sought to implement a gardening intervention that would increase time spent gardening as well as socializing with a Hendrix student garden partner for eleven low-income older adults. During Spring 2022, through collaborations with two living facilities in Conway, and AGEC funding, nine Hendrix students partnered with eleven older Arkansans to provide raised bed wheelchair accessible garden bed kits. Students met with their garden partner one-on-one twice weekly for a month. They spent this time gardening and socializing with their garden partner.
Pre and post whole program assessments were designed. While the sample is very small, for this project we had nearly 100% participation in the assessment component. The goal of this assessment was to understand enjoyment of garden activity, as well as feelings of belongingness, satisfaction with life, and perceived stress before and after the month-long program.
At the start of this program, no more than 1/3 of the participants identified plants or social activities as a relaxing activity, a hobby, or an activity that aided in their feelings of productivity. Following the program, we asked participants whether they found their garden stressful (1) or relaxing (7), whether working in the garden felt more like work (a chore) (1) or a hobby (play) (7), and whether working in their garden made them feel productive (1=never to 5=always). As can be seen in Figure 1, after the program, working in the garden was perceived by the participants as relaxing, a hobby, and producing feelings of productivity that most of the participants were not experiencing before the project began.
Before the program, all participants strongly agreed that they enjoyed spending time outside. Therefore, the program could not have increased this enjoyment. However, it is likely that the program increased the time that they were able to spend outside. We found that when the program started at one facility participants were not allowed easy access to the out-of-doors and that access was made easier once the program began and they had reason to go into the backyard of the facility.
Our pre-program assessments of enjoyment of life, belongingness, and satisfaction with life for these eleven participants were nearly at the top of the scales and their stress levels were very low. Therefore, it would have been unlikely that these measures would show improvements in these variables as there was a ceiling effect. We do have anecdotal reports from students that their garden partners did enjoy the activity and some students even reported they continued to visit their garden partner and tend the gardens after the month-long program completed.
Summary: There is a good deal of psychological research suggesting that engaging in nature can improve well-being and gardening provides an accessible outdoor activity for many older Arkansans. This project increased outdoor activity in these older adults. Hendrix students are currently planning for the next iteration of this program which will involve indoor gardening through the winter when access to the out-of-doors can be limiting for many older adults.
Figure 1. Experience of gardening time in program as a relaxing, hobby, that produced feelings of productivity.