11 Apr 2019

Gardening is one way to a brain-healthy lifestyle - who knew?

I'm currently reading a book called '100 days to a Younger Brain'. So what's that got to do with growing veg, you may ask?  On many levels, gardening is good for you but I hadn't realised that this pastime was helping to keep my brain in tip top shape.

Forget Me Not flowers pink and blue
Forget-me-Nots ... an appropriate flower for this post?

After skimming through the salient chapters in the book,  (I will go back and read it properly but first wanted to get straight to the nitty gritty), it seems that if we want to slow or reverse cognitive decline in our dotage, we need to adopt a brain-healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, optimal amounts of sleep and stress, social engagement, mental stimulation, and a moderately healthy diet. I simplify, of course, but it reminds me of how my lifestyle has changed through gardening and engaging with the gardening community. I've learnt so much and have a better diet and more positive outlook as a result.

It's not the first time the wisdom of this sort of healthy lifestyle has been touted around but I hadn't realised to what extent this, or lack of it, affects our brains as we age.  A classic case of not seeing the obvious until it's pointed out - but I do love some solid advice wrapped up in a bit of neuro-scientific nerdery.

Having lost both parents to age-related illness and dementia, I'm increasingly aware of the moments when instant recall fails me, such as having a plant's botanical name on the tip of my tongue or remembering a person's face but not their name. (Awkward.) It's beyond frustrating and sometimes just a tad worrying.  Reading this book has also made me question the extent of my parents' diagnosis and whether a few changes might have made a small difference to their last years. It's also given me a boot up the bum to improve a couple of areas in my own lifestyle - move more, walk more, drink more. (As tempting as that sounds, I mean water not gin.)

The author, a research psychologist, offers practical advice to slow, halt or reverse signs of deteriorating brain health and how to build resilience against disease through healthy lifestyle choices. Scarily, our brains have already started to atrophy at age 30 (who knew?) but that decline accelerates once we reach 60 by which time we've potentially lost up to a third of our brains anyway.  Crikey. The good news is that even if our brains have shrunk to the size of a small coconut, physical exercise and stimulating environments will help to increase the brain's abilities to learn, remember and function, thereby potentially counteracting diseases such as dementia.

And that's where gardening comes into play - for me, at least.

Being outside gives me social contact with my neighbours; lugging compost and plant pots strengthens my bones; weeding, sowing and hoeing keeps me supple; proximity to nature and the seasons promotes mindfulness and calm. Even writing this blog is keeping my brain active!

So far, so reassuring. Now I just have to work on taking regular breaks from screen time (a quick walk round the garden or run up and down the three flights of stairs to my front door?) and to drink more water.  Sometimes I literally forget to drink. This week though I've had a jug of water on my desk and manage a litre a day plus tea and coffee! As a result I'm feeling less tired in the evenings and sleeping soundly. Result.

The best though is that during regular breaks, I wander onto the balcony to think about the garden, or stroll down to the veg patch to see what's occurring - often coming back with some herbs or veg for lunch. Communing with nature, exercise and a healthy lunch? Three more boxes ticked!

I learnt of this book through a blog I subscribe to, The Age Well Project and then, intrigued, I bought it.  This is the link to the relevant post, 'Can laughter help you live longer?'


  1. Oh dear so my brain has shrunk considerably. I am a great believer in the fact that you are never too old to learn new things hopefully that exercises the brain too. I’m guessing too many people retire and just sit around watching TV etc.

    1. Yours and mine both, Sue! I'm heartened to know that continued learning, whether it's learning to knit or speak another language, (or learn botanical plants names!!) keeps the brain active and may even reverse decline. You're right though, moving around is fundamental to good health - we should get up and move every 30 minutes if we have a more sedentary lifestyle, eg blog writing in front of a computer screen! Although I don't need much of an excuse to get up and walk down to the garden ...

  2. Oh...how often I have a word on the tip of my tongue that disappears into the ethor! Must try more gardening! I did enjoy this.xxx


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