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Starting the Dialogue with Your Aging Parents: Fun, Physical Activity and Food

January 13, 2014

We made it through another holiday season. Hopefully everyone who reads this blog made it through with some renewed family ties, good conversation, and new insights on how to work with each other to build healthy aging into the picture for ourselves and support our aging parents in the same effort.

January is known as the month for making, then breaking, resolutions. I’d like all of my readers to be thinking about how they can improve their health, the health of their aging parents, and the health of their children and grandchildren. That’s a tall order and one that is frequently broken by the middle of February. So much effort goes into making goals and resolutions about food, exercise, and healthier living at this time of year.  Let’s see if I can suggest one that can last through the entire year and become a renewed habit every year.

What if we were to put a different spin on it. What if we were to take something fun, incorporate it with physical activity, and reap the benefits of healthy food?

This is not something that requires anyone to get in the car and drive to the gym,  buy a bunch of workout clothes, or invest in weights or exercise equipment. Actually this has been around for centuries and most of our grandparents (and maybe our parents) did it as a matter of course. People in rural towns with large yards or acreage can be involved and even those in the city can find creative ways in small spaces.

What am I talking about? Have you guessed yet?

  • It’s green, red, yellow, purple, gold, and brown.
  • It’s soothing and stimulating at the same time.
  • It’s something that can be done year round with some extra tools or from spring through fall without those extra tool.
  • You can customize it.
  • You can repeat the process year after year with new additions or deletions as you please.
  • It’s a way to meet new people and share your bounty.

Ok, I have to tell you what it is if you haven’t guessed it by now. I’m talking about a home garden or participating in a community garden. The benefit is that this is a GYM (Grow Your Muscles) experience with the added benefit of delicious food and is something the entire family can participate in.

I have to tell a personal story here. About 50 years ago my grandmother decided to grow some geraniums on her back porch. This porch was really small–maybe 4 by 6 feet. She hung them in baskets and put them along the rails. Her porch was overflowing with geraniums and she loved the color. The following year she added a couple of tomato plants in containers and the year after that she had lettuce and carrots along with her geraniums. Every year she looked forward to starting her “porch garden” and it gave her great joy to talk about her plants.

Now imagine yourself sitting down with your aging parents and pouring over seed catalogs while the snows are raging outside the window in late January or early February. Then imagine when the seeds ordered from those catalogs arrive in late February or early March. After that it’s off to buy some planting mix, grow lights, and get those seeds into some dirt. Then comes the excitement when the first little green shoots poke through that rich dark soil. Eventually comes the day when they can be transplanted into bigger pots and hardened off outdoors or put into the soil of the garden. Anxiously you await the first site of fruits or vegetables on the plants. Then the plants are watched over, lovingly tended, and assisted when needed until the fruit or vegetables are ready to pick. Oh, the joy of the bounty as baskets are full to overflowing with the fruit (and vegetables) of the labor. Finally, it’s time to feast and share on all of that delicious produce.

Obviously I left out a number of steps in that narrative, but any good garden book or online gardening blog can fill in the rest.

One day your mom and dad look in the mirror. Their skin is glowing, their bodies are leaner, their stamina has improved, and their lives are changed. How? Why? All because you suggested they start a garden. They’ve been spending time outdoors which has helped their skin. In addition, they’ve been getting some physical activity instead of sitting in front of the TV all day. Their nutrition has improved because they are eating healthy foods instead of prepackaged processed foods high in sugar, fat, and salt. All of this shows in their newly energized lifestyle filled with adventure and vitality.

Maybe you live close to your aging parents and can share in the process. Maybe you live miles away but your children spend a couple of weeks during summer break and they develop a sense of adventure and wonder through the process of gardening with grandma and grandpa. It strengthens the bond between generations and induces wonder into the mysteries of nature.  Maybe your parents post pictures of their progress on Facebook and you all get to share the bounty during the fall and winter holidays. Maybe your parents even remember that it was you who suggested a garden and they thank you with some of their extra produce.

What other benefits can you come up with from encouraging your parents to start a garden this year? Do you have an experience about gardening you’d like to share. Please feel free to leave a comment.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 14, 2014 5:34 pm

    Hi Laura

    I think this is a wonderful idea- I have tried this a few times with my parents and it definitely got them out in the sun, even though they just had some deck tomatoes and basil growing. My father loves his ‘Rhode Island Tomatoes,’ and it’s a great way to get them first hand. I find that we start talking about methods for gardening that were used by their parents, as farming and gardening go way back to when my grandfather had a farm here in the early 20th century as well as back in Italy. Physical as well as mental fitness result from spending time outdoors and doing something instead of that TV- one thing that is not so great about New England winters for the older folks is that there are not a lot of outdoor options. But planning for a garden during these months will help the time pass as we wait for spring.

    Thanks for the great post!

    All the best!

    • January 15, 2014 8:30 pm

      Thanks for sharing that Patty. Yes, this is a great time to start planning the garden and looking at the seed catalogs with our parents. Another mental benefit is that it helps lift the “winter blues” or seasonal depression because it gives them something to look forward to. Good luck with that. I’d love for you to share some pictures of their tomatoes as they grow this summer!

      Take care and thanks for commenting.

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