Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows.” Getting outdoors is important for people of all ages and walks of life. In addition to wiping the internal slate clean, lifting our spirits, and giving us a chance to reconnect with life’s most important things, getting outdoors is a great way to relax and take peace from the natural beauty that surrounds us. While being outdoors is critical for all people, it’s especially essential for seniors. Recently, research
conducted by the graduate students at the University of Minnesota proved that green, outdoor spaces have the potential to improve the health and wellbeing of seniors. According to the research, seniors who spend ample time in blue and green outdoor areas, such as grassy parks or on the edge of koi ponds, enjoy increased feelings of connectedness and renewal. With these results in mind, it’s clear that getting outdoors on a regular basis is an incredibly important step for seniors who want to safeguard their health and live a more fulfilled life.
Why Getting Outside Matters
As the University of Minnesota study points out, a senior’s day-to-day life can be mundane. Thanks to things like declining health and limited mobility, most seniors aren’t able to go out and explore new places like they once did. This leads to a senior feeling isolated and stuck in the same daily routine. Without the experience of getting outside, monotony goes unbroken and can enact an adverse impact on the senior’s happiness. Luckily, simple things like the sound of flowing water or the sight of birds eating at a feeder can easily break up the daily routine and offer mental and spiritual relief for seniors. In addition to helping to add some freshness to everyday life, getting outdoors also encourages seniors to increase their physical and mental activity levels, which, in turn, can contribute to warding off things like dementia, cognitive decline, immobility, and disease. This, perhaps, is one of the largest benefits of getting outdoors for senior. Simply sitting in a green space or listening to the sound of falling water helps people feel more alive, and for seniors who struggle with depression or feelings of hopelessness, this is an immeasurable gift. According to Richard Ryan
, a prominent psychology professor at the University of Rochester, “research has shown that people with a greater sense of vitality don’t just have more energy for the things they want to do, they are also more resilient to physical illness. One of the pathways to health may be to spend more time in natural settings.” By breaking up daily routines, exposing seniors to new things, and providing an outlet for frustration and sadness, exposure to the outdoors can improve a senior’s sense of well-being and increase happiness across the board. What’s more, seniors who get outside on a regular basis feel less tired – Ryan’s research reports that a whopping 90% of people feel more energized after a day connecting with nature.
Five Facts About Outdoor Exposure for Seniors
1. Being outside boosts vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D is directly related to an improved immune system and a more positive outlook. Spending about 15 minutes of time each day in the sun is an ideal way for seniors to boost their vitamin D levels.
2. Nature can help boost immunity.
By helping seniors feel more positive and increasing mental health, the great outdoors help seniors build and maintain healthy immune systems.
3. Being outside helps seniors feel more energized.
Tired? Take a walk! Getting outside is a great way for sluggish seniors to feel more active.
4. People who spend time outside recover from injuries faster.
Exposure to natural light is powerful, and people who spend lots of time outdoors can recover from injuries faster.
5. Being outside helps seniors improve focus.
Being outdoors gives the brain a break from everyday multitasking and allows it to form new memories and heal itself from over-extension. This contributes to higher attention levels and improved mental health.
How to Help Seniors Get Outdoors
Unless the senior in your life is particularly spry, a challenging hike is probably out of the question. There are, however, dozens of ways to encourage seniors to get active and spend time outdoors. Here are a few easy places to get started:
1. Hang a bird feeder outside a senior’s window
People of all ages love bird feeders, and adding one to a senior’s view is an excellent way to bring some of the dynamic and beautiful interactions of nature just a bit closer. In addition to being easy to maintain, bird feeders are also perfect for virtually any housing situation – even those with limited outdoor space. Because bird feeders don't require any porch or patio square footage, they’re ideal for places like apartments and assisted living facilities. To take the experience of the bird feeder just a step further, get the senior a birding book and notate and identify each new bird species seen. Ideal for people with limited mobility or declining health, a bird feeder is a great way to experience nature without exhausting the senior in the process.
2. Arrange pots of colorful flowers outdoors
Flowers are bright, cheery, and a wonderful way to increase a person’s enjoyment of nature. Plus, they’re incredibly easy to plant and maintain. If a senior has a patio or deck, run a rim of planted, colorful flowers around it. Ideal for brightening the view and providing some of the serenity of nature without all of the efforts it takes to get outside, flowers and other planted greenery is a great way to help a senior improve his or her outlook.
3. Spend some time by water
If the senior is in decent health and can venture outdoors either by walking or in a wheelchair, spend some time near a body of water. Ponds, lakes, streams, creeks, and rivers are all ideal. The slow, trickling noise of moving water has been proven in multiple studies
to calm people and promote a feeling of relaxation and well-being. Spending time by water as often as possible is a wonderful way to help seniors connect with the outdoors and enjoy the experience of new things and dynamic places. Plus, it’s something that is accessible for virtually every senior.
4. Go for a walk
Most cities and towns have paved community trail systems designed for walking or biking. What’s more, most retirement or assisted living facilities have paved walkways designed for strolling. For seniors who are physically able, going for a walk is a prime way to get out and enjoy nature. Because walking is a low-impact activity that boosts the heart rate slightly, it’s a wonderful way to reap the benefits of both exercises and the outdoors at once. For best results, keep walks well within the senior’s comfortable distance range and alter the route to pass a body of water, if at all possible.
5. Have a picnic
A picnic is a great way to combine the healing benefits of getting outdoors with the positive benefits of being around friends and family. For a successful picnic, pack up the loved ones and some tasty treats and head to a favorite place, like a lake or riverside, for a nice outdoor meal.
Getting Outdoors: A Critical Health Move for Seniors
Getting outdoors is a wonderful way for seniors everywhere to improve their health and wellbeing and combat some of the typical rigors of age. In addition to promoting mental and emotional health, getting outdoors is also a wonderful way for seniors to improve their physical health on a daily basis.