Seniors Can Improve Their Quality of Life in the Great Outdoors

Great Outdoors

Like many Seniors, you may have bumped up your time outside given that outdoor activities are one of the healthiest ways to socialize. Spending time outside can also positively impact your health in other ways, including reducing stress and lowering the risk of chronic diseases.

A large body of research backs up the health benefits of being in nature. In The Benefits of Nearby Nature in Cities for Older Adults research brief, for instance, researchers note that seniors who get out in nature show improved mental health and cognitive function and an increase in social interaction. As well, the Therapeutic Landscapes and Wellbeing in Later Life study, shows that green and “blue” spaces (environments with running or still water) contribute to healthy aging by offsetting chronic illness, disability, and isolation.

On top of this, research from the University of East Anglia indicates that spending time outside reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, and high blood pressure. (Interestingly, the research team, which gathered evidence from over 140 studies, found that exposure to greenspace significantly reduces people’s levels of salivary cortisol — a physiological marker of stress.)

Being outside also boosts vitamin D levels. Older adults are one of the groups at risk for developing a deficiency in this vitamin, which can increase the risk of osteoporosis and the likelihood of hip and other fractures.

Take a nature pill
A study in Frontiers in Psychology suggests that spending 20 to 30 minutes in a park could be enough to reduce stress—though, keep in mind that you aren’t allowed to multi-task—so no exercising, reading or checking texts. There’s also a Community Health Initiative, Park Rx America, in which health practitioners “prescribe parks” to prevent and treat chronic disease and promote wellness.

In many parts of the U.S., you can also find a therapy guide to help connect you with nature in a healing way. In Japan, some people partake in a similar practice, forest bathing, which has nothing to do with water; essentially, proponents walk aimlessly in a forest, savoring the experience through the five senses, which can bring them into a state of relaxation.

Get moving in the great outdoors
Of course, given the benefits of exercise, your outdoor adventures should include some physical activity like:

• Gardening or yard work
• Doing yoga or other exercises in a park
• Cycling
• Swimming in a lake, river, or an outdoor pool
• Playing outdoor sports like golf or tennis

Older adults who take daily walks report significantly fewer complaints in pain, sleep, and other problems than others, so you should definitely incorporate hiking into your routine (especially when you live in Nashville, Tennessee, which has so many beautiful trails). The slightly uneven surface of a trail provides a natural way to engage your core muscles and enhance your balance skills, according to this Harvard Health article.

If you have problems with stability, Nordic walking is another option. In this activity, you use poles to push yourself as you walk along a trail or sidewalk, similar to the motion of cross-country skiing. Not only will you be engaging in cardiovascular exercise but you will get a vigorous muscle workout for your shoulders, arms, core, and legs. It’s also associated with reductions in “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, depression, anxiety, and chronic pain, and increases in “good” HDL cholesterol, endurance, muscle strength, and flexibility, according to another Harvard Health article.

If exercise is not an option, still make it a priority to get outside. Even sitting on a park bench and listening to the birds sing can make a substantial difference in your emotional health.

At Blakeford, wellness is an essential part of Life Enrichment. Reach out to us to learn more about the benefits of being a part of Blakeford.