Tag Archives: emotional health

Kickstart a Lifelong Healthy Habit this Summer! 4 Reasons Gardening Benefits Your Health as You Age

Group of people planting vegetable in greenhouse

By Layla Dang, Brianna Wenande, Bethany Westphal, and Jessica R. Petok (Department of Psychology, Saint Olaf College, Northfield, MN)


Gardening is a popular summer activity for a reason! Research shows that it can have positive effects on our physical, mental, and social well-being as we age. Gardening can range from caring for a single plant to mowing the lawn or planting an entire vegetable garden. Don’t be intimidated. Given the versatility of gardening options, anyone can do it. It’s not too late to dig into gardening this summer! Here are four reasons to kickstart this healthy habit:


1. Gardening is great for your physical health:

Gardening is an enjoyable way to keep active and physically healthy1,2. Gardeners report increased levels of physical activity through planting seeds, positioning plants, watering, or simply walking through the garden2. Such physical activity has the following benefits3:


  • Increased hand and body strength
  • Improved flexibility
  • Reduced bodily pain


Regular gardening can also reduce your risk of4:

  • Some cancers
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Osteoporosis


Beyond exercise-driven benefits, gardening can also improve nutrition, as well as sleeping and eating patterns. Planting a kitchen garden has nutritional benefits because it can encourage you to eat fruits and vegetables1. Spending time in an outdoor garden can help regulate your sleeping and eating patterns because sunlight controls your circadian rhythms4.


2. Gardening also benefits your mental and emotional wellbeing:

Gardening can keep you mentally active and alert, providing opportunities to cultivate new knowledge4. In addition to learning about new plants and gardening techniques, many gardeners enjoy the creativity of planning their gardens, which can include choosing what to plant or designing their garden’s layout4. Additionally, research shows that gardening and spending time in nature can even improve one’s attention span through exposure to a variety of sensory stimuli 5.


Among its emotional benefits, gardening can reduce depression and stress, and gardeners report feelings of anticipation, hope, and achievement4,5. If you are older, gardening can provide you with an opportunity to nurture and care for plants, giving you a sense of purpose and improving your self-esteem through a meaningful activity4. Many gardeners report simply gardening “for the love of it,” being attached to their gardens and finding them aesthetically pleasing4.



3. Gardening is an excellent way to improve your social life:

Gardening is a good strategy for expanding your social circle6. For instance, Participants in an organized horticultural program enjoyed sharing their gardening experiences and personal knowledge with others; it helped them form supportive relationships and become more socially active6. Additionally, gardeners have the opportunity to connect with others who share their passion through community gardens, gardening clubs, or social media groups4.


In addition to promoting social interaction and meaningful conversation with others, gardening can also increase your sense of companionship and combat loneliness. Many gardeners even form special bonds with their plants. For example, one participant in a gardening study reflected, “I say hello and talk to my plants everyday . . . It seems that the little plants can understand what I say to them . . . They respond to my encouragement and make me feel that I am not alone”6.


4. You can adapt your gardening habits as you age:

It is important to create optimistic goals as you age, and in order to promote optimum physical and emotional health, you should choose a gardening activity appropriate for your physical capabilities. You can continue your passion for gardening as you age, because luckily, gardening is easily adapted to meet changing needs. You can vary the duration and intensity of your gardening activities; ergonomic tools and low-maintenance plants such as succulents help make gardening more comfortable and achievable. Even just being in nature is cognitively and emotionally beneficial for you7,8.


Overall, gardening is a fulfilling, holistic way to improve your well-being as you get older. Even if you’ve never tended to plants before, gardening is within reach at any age. So, pot a plant today, and maybe it will blossom into a lifelong passion for gardening you never thought you had!


If you’re a gardener:

  • What is your favorite thing about gardening?
  • What do you like to grow in your garden?
  • Do you have any tips and tricks for new gardeners?


Let us know in the comments below! If you would like to learn more about the benefits of gardening, this information may be of interest to you:


1Wang, D., & MacMillan, T. (2013). The benefits of gardening for older adults: A systematic review of the literature. Activities, Adaptation & Aging, 37, 153-181. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01924788.2013.784942

2Tse, M. M. Y. (2010). Therapeutic effects of an indoor gardening programme for older people living in nursing homes. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 19, 949-958. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2702.2009.02803.x

3Park, S., & Shoemaker, C. A. (2009). Observing body position of older adults while gardening for health benefits and risks. Activities, Adaptation & Aging, 33, 31-38. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01924780902718582

4Scott, T. L., Masser, B. M., & Pachana, N. A. (2015). Exploring the health and wellbeing benefits of gardening for older adults. Ageing and Society, 35, 2176-2200. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0144686X14000865

5Detweiler, M. B., Sharma, T., Detweiler, J. G., Murphy, P. F., Lane, S., Carman, J., . . . Kim, K. Y. (2012). What is the evidence to support the use of therapeutic gardens for the elderly? Psychiatry Investigation, 9, 100-110. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.4306/pi.2012.9.2.100

6Chen, Y. & Ji, J. (2014). Effects of horticultural therapy on psychosocial health in older nursing home residents: A preliminary study. The Journal of Nursing Research : JNR., 23, 167-171. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1097/jnr.0000000000000063

7Ulrich, R. S. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 224, 420-421. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.6143402

8Berman, M. G., Jonides, J., & Kaplan, S. (2008). The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature. Psychological Science, 19, 1207-1212. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02225.x




Layla Dang is a senior at St. Olaf College, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Psychology with concentrations in Management Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies. She is currently doing research focused on healthy age-related changes in various types of learning and memory, in the Petok Aging Lab. In the future, she hopes to pursue graduate studies in industrial/organizational psychology.

Brianna Wenande is a senior undergraduate student at St. Olaf College, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, Neuroscience, and Statistics. She is currently doing research in the Petok Aging Lab on how healthy aging and genetics influence learning and memory, and in the future, she hopes to pursue a career in child clinical psychology or pediatrics.

Beth Westphal is a junior at St. Olaf College, and she is studying Chemistry and Neuroscience. She is currently researching healthy aging, learning, and genetics alongside Brianna and Layla. Although undecided about her future career goals, she plans to spend time this summer working in her mother’s garden.

Jessica Petok, PhD, is an Assistant Professor at St. Olaf College. Her research is aimed at understanding the cognitive and neural mechanisms of learning, memory and decision-making in healthy adults of all ages. Her current work examines how genetic polymorphisms contribute to variability in learning and memory across the adult lifespan. She received her BA in Psychology from Skidmore College and her PhD in Lifespan Cognitive Neuroscience from Georgetown University.


Image source: iStockPhoto.com



Filed under: Aging, Health and Wellness Tagged: emotional health, gardening, healthy aging, mental health, physical activity, physical health

4 Reasons to Add Dancing to Your Valentine’s Day Plans

Romantic Mature Urban Couple


By Kimberlee Bethany Bonura, PhD


Whether your Valentine’s Day plans include a romantic partner, dear friends, or a solo activity, why not trip the light fantastic? In other words: make like Fred and Ginger and go dancing!


Dancing, research increasingly shows, is good for both your physical and your psychological health.


1. In terms of physical health, dancing is good exercise.

One scholarly review found that dancing improved a range of physical strengths and abilities, including cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength and flexibility, and balance. Balance, in particular, is important for maintaining health and independence in older adults, since improved balance reduces a risk of falls. Research has found that while falls are common among older adults, they can be devastating and the risk of mortality increases drastically after a serious fall.


2. Dancing may even improve physical strength and balance among older adults with Parkinson’s disease-related balance issues.

One research study found improved balance, walking distance, and backward stride among participants in a 13-week dance class. Both tango and foxtrot participants improved compared to a control group who took no dance classes, and tango participants improved the most. The researchers proposed that the rhythm of dancing activated brain areas necessary to improve balance and functioning.


3. Dancing is also great for your mind and psychological health.

One longitudinal study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that dancing was associated with a lower risk of dementia. A 12-week dance intervention found that dance participation reduced the experience of bodily pain. Other research with older adults in care homes and facilities has found that a variety of dance interventions (line dancing, social dancing, and aerobic dancing) all improve wellbeing and enjoyment by the individuals in the home. And a study with older adults with depression found that dance lessons improved self-efficacy and reduced hopelessness.


4. Dance melds health and fun in one.

When you put on your dancing shoes and hit the floor, you get physical exercise, maintain your memory, improve your mental health, and have fun in the process. Plus, there is the magic of dressing up, remembering the dances of your youth, and enjoying the beat of the music. Can you think of a better way to spend an afternoon or evening?


Ready to go dancing?


In your local area, check the calendars and schedules of these organizations, which often host regular dances.

At most dance venues, a free introductory lesson is usually included at the start of the evening. Dances are often hosted on a regular basis at: Community Centers, Senior Citizen Centers, VFW halls, and American Legion halls. Many college extension programs and community continuing education program host dance classes as part of their courses. Dance studios often have introductory packages to get you started at a low cost, and once you meet dancers in your area, you’ll learn of other opportunities in the area.


Ballroom dance:

USA Dance has chapters throughout the US. Most chapters host regular social dances at a minimal fee, and include an introductory dance lesson before the start of each social dance. You can make friends with local dancers and have a fun evening on the town. Find your local chapter here.Click here


Line dancing:

Line dancing instructor Bill Bader offers a list of line dancing venues by country and state. Click here to look in your area. The United Country Western Dance Council promotes both line dancing and country partner dancing around the US and the world, through dance festivals and competitions. Local events in your area will include lessons and opportunities to dance. Click here to learn more about UCWDC.


Aerobic dance:

Zumba (a Latin-based dance exercise program) and Jazzercise both offer the benefits of dance in group exercise format. Many gyms, fitness centers, community centers, and YMCAs offer Zumba and Jazzercise classes, and classes are often included in your membership. You can also look for Zumba dance classes by clicking here (on the main page, click on “Find a Class). For Jazzercise, click here to find a class in your area.



Kimberlee Bethany Bonura, PhD, is the Division 47 (Sport and Exercise Psychology) liaison to APA’s Committee on Aging. As an exercise scientist, Dr. Bonura focuses on promoting health and wellness through fun activities and self-care. Dr. Bonura has been an amateur ballroom dancer for more than two decades, and plans to keep her balance and maintain her memory by twinkling her toes. Learn more about her work at www.drkimberleebonura.com or contact her directly at [email protected].

Image source: iStockPhoto.com

Filed under: Health and Wellness Tagged: dancing, emotional health, exercise, health, mental health, older adults, physical activity

A Tale of Two Tantrums

Young boy having a temper tantrum

This is the second in a series of weekly blog posts addressing discipline and parenting practices. In this series, we will explore reasons that parents choose among discipline approaches, the science behind those techniques, and alternative approaches to discipline.


By Joan E. Durrant, PhD (Associate Professor of Family Social Sciences, University of Manitoba)


Picture this: You are in a store.  Two young children are nearby with their parents.  Each of them suddenly erupts into a tantrum.  Your intense irritation leads you to utter, “What those kids need is some good, old-fashioned discipline!”  In that moment, you want those parents to make those children stop crying and do whatever it is that their parents have told them to do – now!


When our emotional brain reacts to an aversive event, it ignites an intense desire to regain control, driving us toward coercion and punishment. This is a reaction to the immediate moment.  Think of it as looking through a camera lens that is ‘zoomed in’ on a small part of the scene, showing you only the irritating behavior.


Now ‘zoom out’ to see more of the scene, and what preceded it. You see that one child has had a nasty flu for several days.  You see the other child’s father speaking to her in American Sign Language.  She’s been trying to explain her feelings to him through signs, but he hasn’t understood her.  Your perspective shifts and you realize that these two tantrums are happening for very different reasons: the first because of exhaustion, the second because of frustration.  You quickly realize that punishment wouldn’t help in either situation because it wouldn’t address the actual issues.


Interestingly, the Latin root of ‘discipline’ is discere, which means ‘to learn’ or discipere, which means ‘to grasp intellectually.’  Discipline is about learning, understanding, processing, resolving – actions taken by the child, not done to the child.  It is an active state of constructing knowledge.  But how do you foster this when you and the child are both stressed out?


1. Think long-term

The way we respond to stress is what the child is learning to do. The child is likely to attend to, process, remember and re-enact our response at a later time. How do you want your child to respond to conflict with peers? Keep this foremost in your mind.



2. Reduce the stress

Over recent years, we’ve learned about the importance of ‘self-regulation’ – our ability to calm ourselves when we’re upset. When we can calm ourselves, we can zoom out and see more of what’s going on, helping us to respond constructively and fostering the development of self-regulation in the child.


3. Think about how the child sees the situation


When we’re frustrated, we tend to attribute blame to the child – “He’s defying me;” “She’s misbehaving on purpose.” This feeds our anger and our drive to punish.  But the child also has a perspective on the situation.  The child could be tired, hungry, unable to express herself, frustrated by our behavior, or not yet able to self-regulate.  When we consider the child’s perspective, we’re more likely to respond constructively.  And when we model perspective-taking, we nurture that ability in the child.


4. Ensure the child’s physical and emotional safety

Adults’ first responsibility to children is to keep them safe. When children are scared or anxious, they aren’t able to take in information, process it and remember it the way we hope they will. The might remember how scared they felt in that moment, but this is not the same as constructing knowledge or understanding. We learn best when we are calm and open to new information.


5. Involve the child in resolving the situation


Taking things away, isolation and other punishments don’t help the child to acquire skills. When we talk with the child about our perspective and theirs, and ask them for their ideas about how it can go better next time, we are helping them practice conflict resolution, as well as nurturing their insight.  ‘Discipline’ is a participatory process that helps children gradually learn how to solve problems without aggression or coercion.


Check out these resources, to learn more about:




Dr. Joan Durrant is a Child-Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor of Family Social Sciences in the Faculty of Human Ecology at the University of Manitoba.  Dr. Durrant’s research focuses on the psychological, cultural, legal and human rights dimensions of corporal punishment of children in Canada and worldwide. She was the principal researcher and co-author of the Canadian Joint Statement on Physical Punishment of Children and Youth.


Filed under: Children and Youth Tagged: child development, conflict resolution, discipline, emotional development, emotional health, parenting, parenting tips, punishment, self-regulation, stress, stress management

Breathe and Focus: How Practicing Mindfulness Improves Mental Health as We Age


By Flora Ma (Clinical Psychology PhD student, Palo Alto University) and Rowena Gomez, PhD (Associate Professor, Palo Alto University)


As we age, it’s natural to worry about possible declines in our mental and brain health. Many older adults are concerned about things like memory loss and poorer attention, forgetting names, and taking longer to learn new things. As a result, as we get older we may feel more distress, sadness, and/ or anxiety that can decrease our quality of life. However, we can do something to address these concerns. The answer is mindfulness. Research shows that it can improve brain functioning, resulting in thinking and feeling better as we get older (e.g., Chambers et al., 2007; Chiesa et al., 2010; Prakash, 2014).


What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is an Eastern meditation practice that originates from Buddhism (Baer, 2003). It involves directing our attention to the present moment. Mindfulness can help block irrelevant information and enhance emotional control which in turn can improve the mental health of older adults. For instance, mindfulness could be sitting quietly and not letting your mind wonder, but instead focusing on your breathing. You would breathe in slowly from your nose and breathe out slowly from your mouth.


Mindfulness helps cognitive health 

Practicing mindfulness improves functioning in certain brain areas associated with paying attention and keeping focus. It can help us become less distracted and increase our focus on what we want to pay attention to (Prakash, 2014). Research on mindfulness demonstrated improvements in concentration, attention, and even memory (Chambers et al., 2007; Chiesa et al., 2010; Prakash, 2014).


Mindfulness helps emotional health 

In addition, mindfulness can benefit our emotional health as we age. It promotes an increase in self-awareness that allows for better control of our feelings. We can use mindfulness to focus on positive feelings, and less so on the negative feelings. Research (Brown & Ryan, 2003; Chambers et al., 2007; Ostafin et al., 2006) has shown that mindfulness can:

  • Decrease depressive symptoms;
  • Reduce focus on negativity;
  • Reduce focus on distress; and
  • Increase self-control.


Mindfulness benefits us in the short term and long term

In research studies, short-term practice of mindfulness (i.e., practicing mindfulness for 10 days) has helped to improve attention and focus by reducing the effects of distraction (Chambers et al., 2007; Ostafin et al., 2006). Long-term mindfulness training shows greater effects in being able to maintain focused attention which leads to better thinking and mood. So, as with most things, “more” is “better”. The more we practice mindfulness consistently, the better our mental health will be as we age!


For more information, check out this essential guide to mindfulness for older adults and these 6 mindfulness exercises!



Flora Ma is a Clinical Psychology PhD student at Palo Alto University. She graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2014, with a major in Cognitive Systems.  She has particular research and clinical interests in aging, neuropsychology and life span studies. She is also a student member of the American Psychological Association.

Dr. Rowena Gomez is Director of Clinical Training for the PhD Clinical Psychology Program and Associate Professor at Palo Alto University. Dr. Gomez’s research focus has been in geropsychology, neuropsychology, and depression.



Baer, R. A. (2003). Mindfulness training as a clinical intervention: A conceptual and empirical review. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice. http://doi.org/10.1093/clipsy/bpg015

Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 822–848. http://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.84.4.822

Chambers, R., Lo, B. C. Y., & Allen, N. B. (2008). The impact of intensive mindfulness training on attentional control, cognitive style, and affect. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 32(3), 303–322. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-007-9119-0

Chiesa, A., Calati, R., & Serretti, A. (2011). Does mindfulness training improve cognitive abilities? A systematic review of neuropsychological findings. Clinical Psychology Review. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2010.11.003

Ostafin, B. D., Chawla, N., Bowen, S., Dillworth, T. M., Witkiewitz, K., & Marlatt, G. A. (2006). Intensive Mindfulness Training and the Reduction of Psychological Distress: A Preliminary Study. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 13(3), 191–197. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cbpra.2005.12.001

Prakash, R. S., De Leon, A. A., Patterson, B., Schirda, B. L., & Janssen, A. L. (2014). Mindfulness and the aging brain: A proposed paradigm shift. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnagi.2014.00120

Filed under: Aging, Health and Wellness Tagged: aging, cognitive health, emotional health, meditation, mental health, mindfulness, older adults

Got a Question About Your Kid? Get an Answer Based on Good Science


By Efua Andoh (APA Public Interest Communications Staff)

What keeps you up at night? For many parents or caregivers, 9 times out of 10 it’s something to do with your kids. Have you ever found yourself surfing the web at an ungodly hour searching for answers to questions about your child’s health and wellbeing?

  • How can you get them to sleep better?
  • How can you help them deal with stress?
  • What do they need to adjust to a new school?

The Internet is teeming with websites offering solutions, but are they backed by evidence? Well, here’s something that might help you sleep better at night.

InfoAboutKids.org is a new web-based clearinghouse created to disseminate the latest research and evidence-based guidance on raising a family and helping children. The site is designed for three major audiences (parents, educators and health professionals) and was funded by a grant from the American Psychological Association (APA) Committee on Division/APA Relations.

Put together by seven APA divisions, the website boasts information on children’s healthy development in four broad, overlapping areas: body, mind, emotions, and relationships.

  • Body looks at health in general, typical physical development milestones, and common health conditions.
  • Mind focuses on the development of thinking, language, and problem solving, learning problems and school-related topics.
  • Emotions tackles how children and adolescents develop emotional well-being, some of the challenges they face in doing so and common mental health issues.
  • Relationships refers to how family and peer relationships develop at home, in schools, and in the community.

InfoAboutKids.org has got you covered – from common parenting concerns such as addressing sleep difficulties, preventing drug and alcohol use, and dealing with puberty to more fine-grained issues like disaster-related stress or managing screen time.

“With so much information on the Internet, it’s really difficult to know whether what you’re reading is legitimate, effective, or backed by good science or best practices,” says University of Tennessee psychology professor Kristina Coop Gordon, PhD, of APA’s Division 43 (Society for Couple and Family Psychology). “We wanted to offer one-stop shopping and direct people to information that has already been vetted by the experts.”

The creators of the website, the Consortium for Science-Based Information on Children, Youth and Families, vet their content rigorously to ensure it’s based on quality research and free of bias. The website is also translatable into other languages for non-English speakers and complies with ADA accessibility guidelines for those with disabilities.

They also understand that information on kids’ health is a two-way street. That’s why they encourage users to submit feedback, recommend websites to be included in the clearinghouse, and suggest blog topics. Your input is important.

So next time, you’re up Googling frantically for info on your kid, do yourself a favor. Check out InfoAboutKids.org first.

Image source: Flickr user Swaminathan via Creative Commons

Filed under: Children and Youth, Health and Wellness Tagged: brain development, child development, Children, children's health, children's mental health, development, emotional health, evidence-based, InfoAboutKids.org, parenting, physical health, relationships