The Importance of the Great Outdoors for Seniors

February 22, 2019

By: Allison Kauffman

 

We’ve all been told by our mothers to “Go outside and play!” I have fond memories of playing outside all day in the summer and coming in when the sun went down…and then doing it all over the next day. However, things are different now. My own children enjoy being outside, but they also spend plenty of time inside with their computers, phones and other technology we never had when we were young.

When I was a teenager, I used to love walking on the beach with my grandmother. She lived on Long Beach Island in New Jersey and we would walk for a mile up and then a mile back to her home. It would be an hour of time that I could truly connect with her and talk about a variety of things. I was surprised at how much she would open up and talk about her life while walking along the beach. This was something she didn’t do at her home, because she was always busy cooking or listening to our stories. There was something about the beach that inspired communication and reminiscing for her. I will carry those memories forever in my heart and I do believe the beach was her personal therapy.

Studies show that importance of spending time outdoors for people of all ages. However, for seniors, spending time outdoors can truly make an impact on their health and wellbeing. According to Business Insider, there are several health benefits for seniors who spend time outdoors. They include:

  • Improved short-term memory
  • Lower stress levels
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Less fatigue
  • Less Anxiety and Depression
  • Better vision
  • Lower Blood Pressure
  • Better focus
  • Stimulation of anti-cancer proteins
  • Boosts your immune system
  • Lowers your risk of early death

 

Business Insider also reported on a recent study published in Environmental Health Perspectives. The study found a similar connection: greater exposure to greenness was associated with a 12 percent lower mortality rate. The biggest improvements were related to reduced risk of death from cancer, lung disease and kidney disease.

The University of Minnesota completed an important study in 2015 on the effects of the outdoors on the senior population. Key findings in the study were identified:

  • Older adults have distinct therapeutic relationships with landscapes.
  • Nature can promote the physical, mental, and social health of older adults.
  • Blue space (rivers, lakes and the ocean) in particular embodies important therapeutic qualities for older adults.
  • Safety, accessibility, and perception affect the therapeutic impact of land

An important part of the study finds that if an outdoor area is accessible by wheel chair or walker, a senior is more compelled to utilize the space and enjoy it for longer periods of time.

There are many outdoor activities for seniors of all ages and abilities to enjoy. Here are just some of the great options available.

Fishing

Fishing allows seniors to spend time with family and friends. They may enjoy taking their grandchildren fishing or a good friend. My father-in-law is 75 and he and his cousin go fishing together all the time and look forward to it. Sometimes they go by boat, but other times they just wade into the river.

Walking

Leisurely walking can be very uplifting. Not only are you getting exercise, but your fresh air and sunlight can change your outlook on the day. At Normandie Ridge and RiverWoods, there are beautiful scenic walking trails that are maintained for safety. They have walking clubs, where seniors can go as a group or you can just grab a friend for a walk. Even in the winter, if you dress properly, a stroll outside is very beneficial. Find more information about the walking trails and serenity garden at Normandie Ridge Senior Living Community, click here: Normandie Ridge outdoors. For more information on the walking trails and LifeTrail, click here: RiverWoods outdoors.

 

 

Gardening

Gardening is a very relaxing and popular hobby. If you plant vegetables, you can reap the benefits and make a fresh salad. If you plant flowers, you can cut fresh flower arrangements for your table. Gardening is very rewarding and more of a hobby then a duty, especially if you are living at a retirement community, where they cut your grass and maintain the property for you. My mother loves to garden. She says feeling her fingers in the warm soil is very soothing to her arthritis. She feels great when people walk past her home and tell her how beautiful her garden looks. For those in a nursing home, they often have courtyards for gardening. At RiverWoods and Normandie Ridge, there are many gardening opportunities for personal care, memory care and nursing care residents. At RiverWoods, they also have a greenhouse, where you can still get sunlight and care for plants, without stepping outside.

Golfing

This is an activity my Dad has enjoyed for many years. He has a group of gentleman that he enjoys golfing with or he will just go to the local driving range and hit a few balls. Seniors appreciate the challenge of concentration and patience.

Yard Games

Outdoor games such as lawn bowling, croquet, badminton and Frisbee can be invigorating and enjoyable for seniors. Another fun idea is to set up a dart board outside, so you can enjoy playing darts while getting fresh air and sunshine. Horseshoes and quoits are also fun for family gatherings and entertaining with friends.

Metal Detecting

This was my great grandfather’s favorite outdoor activity. He would take long walks along the beach hunting for treasures. But if you don’t live near the beach, along the river, around a pond or at a park can be fun too.

Photography

If you enjoy the outdoors and taking pictures, this can be a great hobby. Snapping pictures of birds and squirrels or flowers and plants can be very rewarding. All you need is a decent camera and the ability to explore the great outdoors.

According to Business Insider, there are several health benefits for seniors who spend time outdoors. They include:

  • Improved short-term memory
  • Lower stress levels
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Less fatigue
  • Less Anxiety and Depression
  • Better vision
  • Lower Blood Pressure
  • Better focus
  • Stimulation of anti-cancer proteins
  • Boosts your immune system
  • Lowers your risk of early death

Even if you just want to sit outside on a park bench, there are many benefits to getting sunlight every day. Healthline.com reports sunlight and darkness trigger the release of hormones in your brain. Exposure to sunlight can increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin, which is associated with boosting mood. Without enough sun exposure, your serotonin levels can dip, leading to depression and trouble sleeping.

Another benefit of regular sunlight is getting vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for strong bones. Seniors can struggle from bone loss as they get older, so getting sunlight is important in boosting their Vitamin D levels. According to the World Health Organization, getting anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes of sunlight on your arms, hands and face, two to three times a week, is enough to enjoy the vitamin D-boosting benefits of the sun.

Healthline.com reminds us that getting too much sunlight can lead to skin cancer, but a moderate amount of sunlight can actually help prevent some cancers.

According to the Clinical Journal of American Society of Nephrology, those who live in areas with fewer daylight hours are more likely to have some specific cancers than those who live where there is more sun during the day. Those cancers include prostate, colon, ovarian, pancreatic and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

When you are outside, people with fair skin, like me, tend to get a sunburn more quickly. Sun rays are more direct between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so those with fair skin may plan to go outside before or after those times, or where sunblock for protection.

Sometimes if I stay indoors all day, I feel like I need to step outside and take a deep breath of fresh air. Most of the times I will do that when I’m at work at my desk all day. When I retire someday, I know I will love to be able to go outside anytime I want to. This is a mentality we should all have regardless of age, for the health benefits the outdoors can provide.