Can gardening reverse cognitive decline?

by | Nov 12, 2023 | healthy ageing

We know that genetics can play an important role in the risk of developing certain forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Well, we can’t do anything about our genes. But, are there other modifiable factors that might help us avoid this life changing disease? Or, even reverse the mild cognitive impairment that precedes such a diagnosis? While scientists believe that healthy nutrition such as the Mediterranean diet may be an important piece of the puzzle, there is evidence that our daily activities can also have an effect. This recent study looked at the lifestyle activities of people with mild cognitive impairment and found that some activities were more likely to be associated with a potential to reverse cognitive decline.

While it might be surprising that the mild cognitive impairment can be reversed back to normal, in fact research shows that this is often the case. With many people previously diagnosed with cognitive impairment being found cognitively normal at a follow up assessment.

In this four year study, the researchers looked at a range of everyday activities such as driving a car, housework, reading a newspaper, chatting with a friend, being involved in community meetings, board games and gardening. They found that people that started driving a car, used maps to travel to unfamiliar places, read books or newspapers, participated in cultural lessons, attended community meetings, had a hobby or took part in sporting activities or gardening were more likely to revert from mild cognitive decline to normal cognitive function. Perhaps not surprisingly, reading books or newspapers was particularly associated with the reversal of cognitive decline.

Researchers suggested that lower levels of social activities were likely to predict future decline in elderly people living in the community, and people having more human interaction were likely to have better mental health. Their findings in the study, that attending meetings and taking part in hobbies or sports that involve human interaction did indeed support their predictions and provided some reversal of cognitive decline.

Research has also shown that gardening may be beneficial for adult mental health. This was also supported by the findings of this study. In fact, they say their results indicate that it is reasonable to recommend that individuals continue to engage in gardening or field work to increase their chances of recovery from mild cognitive impairment.

They suggest that their findings that board games and learning, daily conversation, giving a helping hand and housework were not likely to indicate improvements in cognitive function, may be explained by the fact that most people in the study took part in these activities, except for board games, so the results could be inconsistent.

The researchers didn’t elaborate on potential reasons for improved cognitive function in gardeners. But gardening does have a lot going for it, as a hobby. Time in nature as a means of stress relief. Regular physical activity and fresh air. Potentially more sun exposure and therefore possibly better vitamin D status. If you enjoy gardening then this research suggests that it is a good lifestyle choice if you want to reverse or avoid mild cognitive impairment.


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