It’s been a rough year for almost everyone, and things have been especially challenging for seniors. Yet, many of us have gained a new appreciation for spending time outdoors. When we go outside, we often experience feelings of peace. Nature provides opportunities for exercise and discovery and benefits both mental and physical health for people of all ages. But sometimes, seniors need a little encouragement to open that door and step outside.
How Does Getting Outside Benefit Seniors?
Spending time outdoors–in both active or not-so-active ways–has health benefits for people of all ages. But seniors may be less likely to get outside than younger folks. Here are some of the benefits of spending time outdoors:
- Vitamin D: Our bodies use sunlight to make Vitamin D, an essential nutrient for bone health. Vitamin D also plays a role in preventing diabetes and some cancers, lowering blood pressure, and boosting heart health.
- Getting outside presents opportunities for physical exercise at any fitness level. Studies have shown that exercising outdoors has even more significant benefits than indoor exercise.
- Studies have shown that spending time outside reduces depression and stress levels.
- Being outdoors improves sleep and helps get our circadian rhythms in sync.
- Time outside creates opportunities for socialization. Possibilities can range from setting up walks or porch-sits with friends to spontaneous conversations with neighbors on a lovely day.
What Are Effective Ways To Get Seniors Outside?
Seniors may be hesitant or unmotivated to get outside. In some cases, mobility issues may make spending time outside challenging. As caregivers and family members, we can remove barriers, offer encouragement, and spend time outside with our loved ones. Some ways to help include the following:
- Accompany mom or dad on walks or bike rides or help them find interest groups for exercise.
- Support hobbies that promote time outdoors like gardening or birdwatching.
- Bring mom or dad’s favorite activities outside, even if it’s something like needlework that they can do indoors.
- Help make outdoor spaces more appealing with flower gardens, bird feeders, and other features.
- Make sure outdoor spaces and entrances to the home are safe and easy to navigate.
- Provide the right safety equipment, including wheelchairs, canes, and walkers
How Does Time Outside Benefit Seniors in Long-Term Care?
The benefits of spending time outdoors for seniors in long-term care are clear. A 2016 study published in The Gerontologist confirmed that access to outdoor spaces provides health benefits to seniors in long-term care settings. In many cases, all it takes is a mindset shift for facilities to offer more opportunities for residents to get outside. Facilities can:
- Remove barriers to outdoor access, including inadequate shade and seating and unsafe walkways.
- Invest in creating safe and welcoming outdoor spaces for residents.
- Find out what residents want and need to spend more time outdoors.
- Train staff in the importance of getting residents outside.
One of the silver linings of the COVID pandemic has been the shift in focus toward outdoor activities and connections. With many long-term care residents vaccinated, most facilities now allow limited visitors. Outdoor visits are encouraged as a safe way to connect with family members and socialize with friends. Even as the pandemic wanes, socializing outdoors is something we’ll see more frequently for all age groups.
At Evergreen Health & Rehab, we’ve always taken pride in the beautiful wooded setting that inspired our name. Recent improvements to our facilities include inviting patios and gardens and a gorgeous covered pavilion. Our outdoor spaces offer plenty of shade and opportunities to spend time surrounded by nature. Residents can take a supervised walk, enjoy a structured activity, have an outdoor chat with a friend or spend time appreciating the natural world. The last year has reminded many of us just how essential nature is to our well-being. At Evergreen, it’s something that remains a priority–now more than ever.