The Dirt on Gardening: Benefits to Your Mind, Body, and Soul

Gardening is more than just pretty flowers and plants. In honor of Earth Day on April 22, here’s the dirt on gardening and the benefits it can bring to your mind, body, and soul:

Gardening is physically good for you. According to the Centers for Disease Control, when activity is done at a moderate-intensity activity level 2.5 hours per week, health risks are reduced for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, and osteoporosis. Gardening, a low-impact exercise, falls into this category.

It’s a scientifically-proven stress reliever. People find tranquility, healing, and mental clarity when gardening.

It optimizes vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin.” When your bare arms and legs are exposed to sunlight in safe amounts while gardening, skin cells manufacture vitamin D. This vitamin is essential for the absorption of calcium, needed for bone growth and bone health. (Unsafe, long-term sun exposure can contribute to skin cancer. To reap the benefits of optimizing vitamin D from sun exposure, aim for half the time it would take your skin to turn pink in the sun, then put on sunblock.)

It might decrease dementia risk by keeping your mind sharp. According to a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, gardening may cut your risk of Alzheimer’s nearly in half. Physical and mental activity, when combined, can have a positive influence on the mind.

It can help you sleep better. Fresh air, physical activity, and safe sunlight exposure can all contribute to a better night’s sleep. Take it one step further and put Aloe Vera, English Ivy, Jasmine, or Lavender indoor plants in your room to purify the air and help you catch more zzzz’s.

It reinforces the use of your hands. When you want to pull a weed, you’re thinking about pulling that weed, not the physical act of gripping something.

It can boost your mood. Just being outside can lift spirits. There’s also a natural optimism that comes with the mentality that, even if there’s bad weather, you can always try again next year.

It can improve your balance. Gardening can build your strength and improve your balance and coordination. Studies show that just 30 minutes of gardening a day can help support rehabilitation and recovery for people affected by heart disease and stroke.

It provides a sense of accomplishment. It’s therapeutic to nurture a seed into a full-grown plant.

It’s an excellent source of fresh produce. Some of the healthiest foods you can eat are grown in the ground. Bonus, you save money on your grocery bill.

American Baptist Homes of the Midwest has senior living communities in Harlan, Iowa; Denver, Colorado; Omaha, Nebraska; Albert Lea, Minnesota; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Milwaukee; Wisconsin. Our mission is to create healthy Christian communities that empower older adults, families, and people with disabilities through providing choices for housing, services, and technology that enrich body, mind, and spirit.

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5 Ways to Preserve Your Family Legacy

We build a legacy every day we’re alive. It’s evident in our beliefs, values, experiences, and how we choose to give back. It’s evident in how we respond to life’s challenges. A legacy isn’t just what we’ve earned, but what we’ve learned. Don’t let untold stories from your past become lost. Here are five ways to record, celebrate, and connect with family while creating a legacy keepsake:

Create a family tree scrapbook. Start with the most recent family members and move outwards, rather than the other way around. Include important dates, migration from one country to another, family traditions, hereditary information, interesting keepsakes (receipts, concert tickets, etc.), and photos from all stages of life—not just the younger years. Ask family members to create their own pages so they can control their messages and how they most want to be remembered. *Tip: Be careful when handling old photos. Touch only the corners. Make sure all photos have captions. Journaling is a key part of scrapbooking. You want to know who you’re looking at and why those photos have significance.

Gather essays and compile them into a collection. Ask family members to fill out questionnaires (city and hospital where they were born, first/memorable/current jobs, schools, where they’ve lived, children, travels, favorite foods, sports, experiences) and create a book.  Another idea? Ask the family to answer a series of questions every year on the same holiday: what’s one lesson you learned this year, favorite TV show/book/movie, how you spent your last birthday, life lessons, advice, memorable moments, etc.

Interview family members on video and create a documentary. Don’t know what equipment to use or how to make a documentary? This website provides a helpful step-by-step “how-to” guide: www.desktop-documentaries.com.

Create an inventory of family artifacts/heirlooms. Ever wondered about the story behind that family heirloom? Create a place to store that information. What is the item? What are the family stories/memories associated with it? When was it made or acquired? Who owned it first? Who owns it now?

Put together a heritage recipe cookbook. For some families, their best memories are wrapped in memorable meals. If recipes have been handed down through the generations, compile those in a cookbook. In addition to the recipe, you can include photos of the meal and the person or family who first made it, the person or family who submitted it for the cookbook, and any special memories associated with it.

In the wise words of actor Michael J. Fox, “Family isn’t just an important thing, it’s everything.” Take steps now to record your memories of the past—and help preserve those moments long into the future.

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Mindfulness Meditation: A Beginner's Guide

“It’s also helpful to realize that this very body that we have, that’s sitting right here right now… with its aches and it pleasures… is exactly what we need to be fully human, fully awake, fully alive.” ~ Pema Chodron

Pause for a moment and breathe. Be present. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings, relax your body. It might seem easy enough, but meditation—based on traditional Buddhist practices—requires you to be completely alone with your thoughts, and can actually take some time to “train your brain” to stop wandering. Once you’re able to focus on being present rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, there’s no denying the positive benefits. Mindful meditation can improve our:

  • Sleep
  • Memory
  • Mood
  • Stress levels
  • Health

People who regularly practice mindfulness say they’re more happy, less anxious, and more spontaneous. Mindful meditation can also encourage connectedness, which can alleviate loneliness.

How does a person start meditating? Actually, you may have meditated without realizing it. Remember the last time you stared at a flame in a burning fire? Or even did a jigsaw puzzle? Your brain was likely focusing and relaxing. It’s different, though, when it’s an intentional daily act. Here’s how to get started:

• Find a quiet, peaceful room in your home, a space without clutter or distractions. Some people prefer to meditate in the morning; others before bed.

• Clear your mind, but acknowledge that thoughts will pop into your head. Let those thoughts float away.

• When you first start meditating, it might be helpful to listen to the Calm app, white noise, or lulling music.

• Make sure your shoulders and neck are relaxed. Breathe deeply in and out.

• Count the inhalations and exhalations. Or breathe in positive energies and let go of the negative. If thoughts creep in, keep focusing on your breathing. Start with just 2 minutes, then work your way up to 10-15.

Being mindful doesn’t mean you’re thinking about nothing. It means waking up out of autopilot and really paying attention to our thoughts and feelings, and allowing those feelings to happen. It means accepting that some negative emotions are part of life, and learning to balance negative feelings with positive ones (once we deal honestly with emotions, we can learn and grow—and experience life in a more productive way). It means fully deeply present in the moment, with the past and the future having no power. As Mother Teresa said, “Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.”

American Baptist Homes of the Midwest has senior living communities in Harlan, Iowa; Denver, Colorado; Omaha, Nebraska; Albert Lea, Minnesota; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Milwaukee; Wisconsin. Our mission is to create healthy Christian communities that empower older adults, families, and people with disabilities through providing choices for housing, services, and technology that enrich body, mind, and spirit.

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5 Fun Ways to Celebrate St. Patrick's Day

Whether or not your relatives lived in Ireland during the Irish Potato Famine, it’s nearly impossible not to get into the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day. This year, on March 17, celebrate the holiday by doing one (or all!) of the following:

DRESS IN GREEN

Wearing green, legend has it, makes you invisible to leprechauns. Pinching someone who isn’t wearing green is a reminder that a leprechaun could appear and wreak havoc. You don’t want to get pinched, do you?! From green felt hats and wigs to green boas, shamrock-shaped glasses and earrings, and socks, there are many ways to add a little green to your ensemble on St. Patty’s Day.

PLAY IRISH MUSIC

Some ideas include My Wild Irish Rose, Galway Bay, I’m Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover, Danny Boy, Peg ‘o My Heart, That’s an Irish Lullaby, and When Irish Eyes are Smiling.

ENJOY TRADITIONAL IRISH FOOD

Whether it’s corned beef and cabbage, shepherd’s pie, stew, potato soup, Irish soda bread, tea cakes, or mint brownies, celebrate Ireland with a nod to some of the traditional favorites.

PLAY A LUCKY VERSION OF BINGO

Instead of getting B-I-N-G-O, tape the letters L-U-C-K-Y to bingo cards. Free printable bingo cards can be found here.

PLAY THE COIN TOSS GAME

Place a hoola hoop in the center of the room, with a paper shamrock in the middle of the hoop. Hand out coins (or quarters or chocolate coins) and give each player three tries to hit the shamrock. When someone hits the shamrock, they win a small prize.

While you’re having fun celebrating, try to remember a few key Irish expressions: “Erin go bragh!” (Ireland forever!), “May the roof above us never fall in, and may we friends beneath it never fall out,” “May your thoughts be as glad as the shamrocks. May your heart be as light as a song. May each day bring you bright, happy hours, that stay with you all the year-long” and “Sláinte!” (Cheers!).

 

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What Seniors Need to Know About Heart Health

Contrary to popular belief, a heart attack isn’t always like what you see on TV, with an older man dramatically clutching his chest before falling to the ground. It can affect men and women of all ages in different ways—sometimes without any chest pain at all.  In honor of February being National Heart Month, we at American Baptist Homes of the Midwest felt it was important to shine a spotlight on heart attack warning signs and controllable risk factors.

First, though, what is a heart attack?

HEART ATTACK EXPLAINED

According to the American Heart Association, “a heart attack occurs when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or cut off completely.” Essentially, the arteries become clogged, eventually starving the heart of the oxygen it needs to function properly. It is different from cardiac arrest, which means the heart actually stops beating. While it’s true that a severe heart attack can lead to cardiac arrest, they aren’t the same thing. A heart attack is a circulation problem and cardiac arrest is an electrical problem. Cardiac arrest can be reversed if—within minutes—CPR is performed and a defibrillator is used to shock the heart back to its normal rhythm. Minutes can make all the difference in restoring circulation to the heart. Whatever you do, don’t ignore the pain and hope it will go away.Trust your intuition and get help right away. Pain should be respected. It’s proof that something is wrong. 

According to the American Heart Association, call 911 if you feel:

  • Chest discomfort: If you have discomfort in the center of your chest lasting more than a few minutes—either an uncomfortable squeezing, pressure, or pain—get to a hospital.
  • Pain or discomfort radiating down one or both arms, irregular pain in the lower or upper back (indicating stress to the heart muscle), neck, jaw, or stomach. The reason you might feel pain in one of these spots rather than in your heart is because of nerve proximity. This is called “referred pain.” Your brain is confusing those signals and thinks the heart’s pain is the jaw (or back, or neck), calling for help.
  • Shortness of breath: If you feel like you ran a race and you didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, this is a red flag. Blocked blood flow to the heart can affect your breathing, whether you feel this way upon waking up, walking up a flight of steps, or going about your typical daily routine. If you suddenly feel like you can’t catch your breath and you didn’t feel that way before when doing the same types of activities, alarm bells should be sounding.
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat, feeling nauseous or vomiting, feeling dizzy or light-headed, or experiencing extreme fatigue. These symptoms often affect more women than men who mistakenly diagnose themselves with the flu. The difference? These symptoms are typically extreme, sometimes accompanied by heart burn or chest pressure.

If you think you’re having a heart attack, call 911 and say, “I’m having a heart attack.” Don’t try to drive to the nearest hospital. Chew an uncoated aspirin and wait for help to arrive.

RISK FACTORS 

The more risk factors you can keep in check, the less likely you are to have a heart attack. Protect your heart at all stages of life through doing the following:

Exercising: Move your body at least 30 minutes a day. Start by walking, strength training, or stretching. You are never too old to exercise. If you have a chronic condition, though, be sure to get sign-off from your physician.

Eating right: Fuel your body with fruits, vegetables, plant-based proteins, whole grains, low-fat dairy, poultry, and fish. Eat less salt. Watch portion sizes. Limit the junk food.

Keeping your weight down: Do you know your body mass index? If not, you can figure it out on this handy BMI calculator.

Quitting smoking. Just one year after quitting, you’ll reduce your risk of coronary heart disease by 50 percent.

Knowing your numbers: High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes are all risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Know your numbers.

Heart disease isn’t an inevitable part of aging. By knowing the signs and symptoms of cardiovascular disease—and the importance of controllable heart-healthy habits—you can protect your heart long into the future.

American Baptist Homes of the Midwest has senior living communities in Harlan, Iowa; Denver, Colorado; Omaha, Nebraska; Albert Lea, Minnesota; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Milwaukee; Wisconsin. Our mission is to create healthy Christian communities that empower older adults, families, and people with disabilities through providing choices for housing, services, and technology that enrich body, mind, and spirit.

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Let the Good Times Roll: Celebrate Mardi Gras in Your Senior Community

In Louisiana, Mardi Gras is a big deal. It’s not only a legal holiday, it’s become a legendary part of the culture, bringing hundreds of thousands of tourists to the New Orleans French Quarter every year to celebrate. With some creativity, you can bring a little taste of “N’awlins” (and Mardi Gras!) to your senior community. Every year, Mardi Gras is in either February or March, based on the date of Easter Sunday (46 days before Easter). This year, Mardi Gras is on February 13.

What is Mardi Gras?

The history of Mardi Gras goes way back. The age-old pagan spring festival began in ancient Rome and was later adopted by Christian leaders as the “12 Days after Christmas.” In Italy, France, and England, masked balls were a way to celebrate the Twelfth Night, known as King’s Day or the Epiphany, a reference to a story in which three wise men bring baby Jesus gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh 12 days after his birth (just like what’s referenced in the popular song “We Three Kings”). The balls and parties were so popular, they continued until Shrove Tuesday/Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras (they’re all the same day!), the day before Lent—the final shebang before the 40-day abstinence started. In other countries, the period of time between Epiphany and Fat Tuesday is called Carnival, translating to “farewell to meat,” probably due to lack of refrigeration back in medieval times. (The Carnaval celebration in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is considered the largest in the world.) The whole idea was that merrymakers would binge and feast before the fast.

Mardi Gras in the U.S.

Mardi Gras became a European holiday in 1582, but didn’t hit landfall in the U.S. until the late 17th century, when French explorers set up camp near New Orleans—naming the spot Point du Mardi Gras—after the holiday celebrated in France. In the years afterwards, French settlements marked the holiday with masked society balls and extravagant dinners. When Spain took over the territory, these “rowdy rituals” were banned and masked balls associated with the holiday were outlawed. It wasn’t until 1827, after much convincing, that wearing a mask in the street was legalized. Many of the customs were brought to the U.S.  Street processions of horseback riders and masked revelers in carriages started in France, but in order for the crowds to see the parade, men carrying flambeaux—or flaming torches—debuted here in 1857. *Fun fact: By law, all float riders must wear a mask while parading. Legend has it that the masks were worn so that classes could intermingle without restrictions. On Fat Tuesday, “masking” is legal. Have fun with this! Pass out masks and wigs at your senior community.   

Painting the town green, purple, and gold

The official colors of the Carnival season include gold (power), purple (justice), and green (faith). The colors were inspired by the royal house of visiting Russian Grand Duke Alexis, who became “Rex,” or king of the carnival. Decorate in the colors of Mardi Gras!  

Throw Me Something, Mister!  

Krewes, acting as secret societies, work all year to plan Mardi Gras balls and parades. There are multiple parades leading up to Fat Tuesday, from the all-female Krewe of Muses (throwing glittery shoes) to the Krewe of Barkus (for dogs), to the music-themed Krewe of Orpheus, founded by Harry Connick Jr.

In 1870, one of the original secret societies, the Twelfth Night Revelers, started handing out small toys and strings of beads during the parade. (It was good luck if you caught the beads.) In the 1930s, krewes started throwing wooden nickels, then graduated to brightly colored aluminum coins, called doubloons. Today, “throws,” or the goodies you can catch during a parade, include doubloons, plastic beads and an array of stuffed animals, cups, toys, and Frisbees, often stamped with the krewes logo. The most prized throws include coconuts hand-painted by members of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club (only these ones, due to liability issues and not wanting to hit someone in the head with a coconut, are handed out in bags.) Encourage residents to yell, “Throw me something Mister!” and have your own parade, passing out doubloons or beads. (The beads will  make your party more festive.) Another way to add to the festivities? Play some classic Dixieland jazz music during your parade.

Eat cake!

The King Cake is an oval shaped coffee cake, braided and covered in green, gold, and purple icing. The cakes come with a small plastic baby to insert inside the cake, and whoever cuts the slice of cake with the baby inside is king for the day (and responsible for buying the next king cake). The tradition is an acknowledgement of the Three Kings and the Feast of the Epiphany, associated with the gifts brought to Jesus. *Celebrate with your own version of King Cake and champagne glasses of sparkling cider or N/A champagne.  

You don’t have to gather in the French Quarter of New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras. Now you can let the good times roll right where you live.

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