- Written by Barbara Bodzin, Executive Director, LifePath
- Published: 21 May 2019
With spring upon us, longer days and warmer temperatures bring much needed relief from the challenges of winter. This “growing“ season brings with it the opportunity to get outside and interact with nature; an activity that’s not only a joy for the senses but literally healing for the body.
According to the International Journal of Environmental Research, gentle outdoor activity has proven to greatly improve physical functioning, reduce one’s fear of falling and result in fewer depressive symptoms.
Being outside can help increase levels of Vitamin D, which often is low among older adults. Getting sufficient Vitamin D can help reduce your risk of a number of physical health issues, including rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and heart attack. In addition, time in nature may help you recover more quickly from an injury or illness.
“Studies tell us that older adults who take daily outdoor walks report significantly fewer complaints in pain, sleep and other problems when compared to adults who do not go outside daily.”
Research shows that physical activity can lead to a better quality of life as we grow older. Studies tell us that older adults who take daily outdoor walks report significantly fewer complaints in pain, sleep and other problems when compared to adults who do not go outside daily.
Like walking, gardening can also play a positive role in health as we age both physically and mentally. Older gardeners with access to a community garden report increased physical activity over those who don’t garden. They also report better health status, increased physical functioning, reduced pain and other physical benefits. And naturally, gardeners are more likely to eat more vegetables resulting in better diets than non-gardeners of the same age. A 2006 study found that gardening could lower risk of dementia by 36 percent. The International Journal of Environmental Research tracked more than 2,800 people over the age of 60 for 16 years and concluded that physical activity, particularly gardening, could reduce the incidence of dementia in future years.
Along with the physical benefits of time spent in nature, the restorative effects of nature support mental health and well-being. In older adults, studies show that physical activity in green spaces can be linked to better moods, decreased chance of depression, reduced stress levels and improved cognitive function. These benefits extend beyond physical activity. Studies show that the frequency and amount of time spent in nature correlate with feelings of mental restoration. An extra 30 minutes spent in nature increases this restorative effect and can be even more dramatic with individuals experiencing higher stress levels.
Even looking out a window into a garden or forest or viewing pictures of nature can contribute to a reduction in stress and improved cognitive health. These benefits can become especially significant in older individuals suffering from chronic stress or experiencing stressful events such as the loss of a loved one.
Take advantage of the natural, restorative benefits this wonderful season offers!