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Stephen London stroke survivor potting up
Gardening and time in nature can help support rehabilitation, recovery, health and wellbeing after a stroke. Whether you have a windowsill or large garden, there are activities you can do.
  • Support your physical health, helping build strength, stamina and balance
  • Find gardening activities that bring enjoyment and work towards building confidence in your abilities
  • Getting outside and spending time in nature has been shown to provide positive impacts on mental health
  • Gardening can be a shared, social activity as well as a solo one, allowing you to work alongside and connect with others

There are an estimated 1.3 million stroke survivors in the UK, according to Stroke Association. Every year, around 100,000 people have a stroke. This is a serious, life-threatening situation in which the blood support to part of the brain is cut off. Getting urgent treatment is essential.

No two strokes are the same. Depending on the type and severity, if you have a stroke you may be affected in very different ways, including:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Pain
  • Aphasia. This affects around a third of people who have a stroke and creates difficulties with language or speech
  • Requirement to use a wheelchair, either full time or some of the time

A stroke may also have a significant impact on your mental wellbeing. This can range from feelings of grief and loss to anger, frustration and a loss of confidence. It can be tempting to withdraw into the home.

You can find more information on effects of stroke on the Stroke Association website.

A stroke is a big life event. You may need a long period of rehabilitation afterwards and possibly ongoing care.

There are also steps that can be taken to hopefully bring about positive outcomes and provide improvements in physical and mental wellbeing.

Recovery and the role of gardening

Gardening and nature-based activities and techniques can help support many areas of recovery after a stroke. These include:

  • Building strength and stamina
  • Improving motor skills
  • Improving cognitive function, like memory
  • Growing self-confidence

Physical health

Gardening offers ways to use and move your body. This could be through physical tasks that burn calories. Or it could be through gentle activities that develop fine motor skills.

Recent research from the American Academy of Neurology suggests that regular exercise could improve outcomes after a stroke.

Doing gardening means I’ve got my life back, all possible and achieved with the love of my carer and my garden.

Ron, stroke survivor

The NHS has physical activity guidelines that advise adults aged 19-64 do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week. This is also recommended as a way to reduce the risk of heart disease or a stroke.

Mental wellness

Gardens are special spaces that can have restorative qualities.

An article in Mental Health Review Journal reviewed a large body of research. It showed the positive effects of gardening on mental health. This included reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety.

If you were a keen gardener before, realising what is still possible can be a confidence boost. If you are new to gardening, it is a great way to try something new.

It doesn’t matter if you have a huge garden or a small windowsill – you can find activities to try.

I had no knowledge of gardening and was a complete beginner but quickly my enthusiasm grew as I started to realise the real benefits.

Neil, gardener, stroke survivor

Gardening doesn’t have to be a solo activity. It can be enjoyed with others and is a great way to reduce loneliness and isolation. You could share tips with friends and neighbours or ask for help. In time, you could also look at joining a community garden or allotment. The RHS has a directory for a large number of gardening groups nationwide.

Adapting

You may need to adapt the way you do things.

This could mean learning to use a different hand or working one-handed. Or creating a space and ways of working that are wheelchair friendly. You may find our article on gardening in a wheelchair helpful. If you have lost balance, you may want to be careful to avoid bending.

Read our guide on how to make your garden easier to manage after a stroke for advice on adapting layout and technique.

I am now a firm believer that therapy through gardening is a powerful tool. It helped me to accept the fact that I had suffered a stroke and come to terms with it. It helped me to learn to live again.

Ian, Thrive client gardener
Two people including a stroke survivor plant up a container at a table
Two people including a stroke survivor plant up a container at a table

Selecting the right activities

You may want to consult with your GP, physiotherapist or Occupational therapist before starting activities. They can help advise on what is safe and helpful, along with techniques tailored to you.

After that, it’s important to choose activities you will enjoy doing.

Then, it is about building up strength, stamina and confidence over time.

Read our article on gardening activities after a stroke for ideas on activities with differing levels of intensity.

BBC Lifeline Nicholas 28
Nicholas in the garden

In 2017, life changed for Nicholas in a matter of moments when he had a stroke age 56.

An ambulance arrived swiftly and took him to a specialist stroke hospital. Although treatment was speedy, he was left unable to walk or talk.

The prognosis for Nicholas was not good. But he remained determined to get better. Gradually, he set out on the path to partial recovery, starting from square one. He spent six months in hospital and intensive rehab, slowly showing signs of improvement.

Having my stroke, I felt very alone and very frightened. I really withdrew … (gardening at Thrive) has given me something to look forward to and now I'm helping others as well as them helping me.

Nicholas, Thrive client gardener

Before his stroke, Nicholas had a love of the outdoors. Joining a 12 week Social & Therapeutic Horticulture (STH) programme at Thrive Battersea Park helped get him back outside again.

At Thrive, he started doing a variety of gardening and nature-based tasks, from composting to potting up plants. These were designed to improve fine motor skills, build dexterity and strengthen limbs.

The physical activities, together with the support of fellow gardeners and staff, made a real difference. It helped Nicholas increase his confidence as well as opening up and talking.

“The hard work has paid off,” says Nicholas. “Mentally it is a continual challenge, but I wouldn’t stop it, no way. I’ve made very good friends here so I’m a happy customer.”

Watch Nicholas story on how gardening has helped his rehabilitation

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