Sun Protection Tips for Older Gardeners

Spending time in the garden is linked to significant health benefits. According to research in Elsevier’s Landscape and Urban Planning, gardening promotes physical activity and psychological well-being that’s akin to the levels experienced by individuals living in affluent areas. Simply relaxing amidst nature has been shown to enhance one’s mental health as well.

This shows that gardening can offer a valuable way for seniors to stay active, maintain mobility, and engage in a fulfilling hobby. However, while the benefits of gardening are substantial, it’s crucial for older gardeners to prioritise sun protection. Our skin becomes thinner and, therefore, more vulnerable to the damaging effects of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays as we age. For seniors who spend extended periods outdoors, safeguarding against sun exposure is paramount to maintaining overall health. Let’s take a closer look below.

Invest in protective clothing

Gardening can exacerbate skin damage through repetitive movements and prolonged exposure to the sun. Alarmingly, skin cancer rates among adults aged 55 and over in the UK have risen by 195% since the 1990s. This isn’t surprising, given older skin’s increased sensitivity to sun damage and the UK’s notorious heat levels. 

The latter was particularly noted by entrepreneur Johanna Young when she moved to Australia from the UK, thereafter inspiring her to create Solbari, a line of sun-protective clothing. This differs from regular clothing in that it offers superior UV protection through tightly woven fabrics and special coatings. Older gardeners can start by ordering online on the websites of Solbari, Coolibar, or other similar brands and choosing among the selection of long-sleeved shirts and pants. Consider items with front buttons or zippers for easier disrobing after a long day of sweating and aching joints.

Accessorise smartly with sunglasses

Gardening tasks often involve time spent outdoors to inspect the growth of plants. There are also plenty of reflective surfaces in a garden, from water features to certain types of leaves. These can expose the eyes to higher levels of glare, which is especially dangerous for older adults whose eye lenses and corneas have undergone changes. Conditions like age-related macular degeneration and cataracts, which affect about 1 in 3 people over the age of 65 in the UK, can be aggravated by prolonged sun exposure.

Beyond investing in protective clothing, older gardeners should accessorise with high-quality shades. You can choose among the larger sunglasses from top brands like Ray-Ban’s RB6355-50 or Glasses Direct’s Jaden. Many of these use acetate or semi-crystalline thermoplastic for a lightweight fit, reducing pressure on older individuals’ noses and ears. Just remember to add a UV light-blocking tint and polarisation to your style of choice in order to minimise glare and ensure 100% protection from harmful UVA and UVB rays.

Choose the right sunscreen

UV damage does not simply increase the risk of skin cancer. It is also a significant contributor to premature ageing, aggravating wrinkles, fine lines, and sunspots. That’s why 89% of individuals use sunscreen to mitigate the risk of skin cancer, while 69% use it to prevent signs of ageing. 

Given those two reasons, sunscreen should be a staple in any gardener’s routine — much more so for an older gardener. It can be used to cover any exposed patch of skin. Make sure to choose the sunscreen that’s right for your specific skin type. Brands like Coppertone and Dune Suncare offer inclusive formulas that cater to different skin tones and melanin levels. Meanwhile, formats like cream or lotion are often better for older adults who struggle with dryness.

Follow the 3-hour gardening rule

The ageing process often leads to reduced sweating capacity and diminished thirst sensation, which can lead to easier dehydration and heat exhaustion. To mitigate these risks, it’s crucial that older gardeners follow the 3-hour gardening rule, which advises against gardening between 11 am and 2 pm when the sun’s rays are at their strongest.

Make it a habit to start your gardening tasks early in the morning or late in the afternoon and stay hydrated throughout the day. You can invest in a Hydro Flask or any similar high-quality insulating water bottle to keep your drink ice cold for hours and keep it handy while tending to your garden. This can ensure you stay cool and hydrated and your gardening activities remain enjoyable and safe.

With these sun protection tips, older gardeners can continue to reap the numerous benefits of gardening while minimising the risks associated with sun exposure. For more on outdoor activities, check out our other write-ups on Gardeners Club.

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