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Gardening could be the hobby that helps you live to 100

Farming for a longer life?

If gardening is good, is farming even better? Many of the lifestyle factors associated with longevity – such as living in the country and getting lots of exercise – apply to farmers as well.

Some evidence suggests that farming is one of the healthiest occupations. One Australian study showed that farmers were a third less likely to suffer from a chronic illness, and 40% less likely to visit a GP than non-farm workers. Researchers from the US compared mortality rates among farmers against rates for the general population and found farmers less likely to die from cancer, heart diseases or diabetes. And studies in Sweden and France have also showed farmers are healthier than non-farmers.

Dr Masahiko Gemma of Waseda University in Tokyo studied self-employed farmers in the central province of Saitama, who were found to have a longer life expectancy that non-farmers and work later into life. Many of Gemma’s respondents were part-time farmers or retirees, and he describes many of their responsibilities as “similar to the work of maintaining a garden”.

Researchers from the US compared mortality rates among farmers against rates for the general population and found farmers less likely to die from cancer, heart diseases or diabetes

“Small family farms are common in Japanese agriculture,” says Gemma, explaining that his survey did not include farmers working for large-scale corporate operations. He found that self-employed farmers enjoyed statistically significant and positive changes in psychological and physical conditions before and after engaging in light farming activities. “Our guess is that farming work contributes to the maintenance of good health and spirits,” he says.

Reality check

Although Gemma’s findings are heartening, not all farming resembles the traditional, low-tech Japanese model he describes. Agriculture is an industry in most of the Western world, and farmers can experience difficult or dangerous working conditions, high debt and increasingly automated processes.

“The reality of what agriculture is like, at least in America, is staring at a computer for as long as everyone else, running systems for broiler houses or hog containment facilities, or sitting in your air-conditioned combine watching videos while you go across monotonous GPS precision-guided fields,” says Thomas Forester, a New York-based food policy consultant to research organisations and UN agencies.

It’s difficult, then, to view farming as a magic bullet against aging.

Neither farming nor gardening will ultimately guarantee a longer lifespan. But some of the lifestyle factors associated with both – namely going outside, engaging in light physical activity and eating a healthy plant-based diet – just might.

In the end, it’s all about balance.

“I use the analogy of a chair,” says Willcox. “Diet, physical activity, mental engagement and social connection are the four legs. If you don’t have one of them, you fall out of balance, and it can shorten life expectancy. Longevity isn’t about one single factor – it’s about not working too hard to share a constellation of them all.”

by BBC


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