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Benefits Of Outdoor Activities For The Elderly

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The list of benefits of being outdoors and engaging in activities outside of the home is long enough to encourage you to get outside!

Benefits Of Being Outside For Seniors

Researchers at the world renowned research institute, University of East Anglia recently conducted a study involving 140 different studies from 20 countries (which included the UK, US, Spain, France, Germany, Australia and Japan).  These studies involved 290 million people – so it’s easy to say that this study is based on a large amount of information.

Their conclusion as reported in ScienceDaily.com was…

“…reveals that exposure to greenspace reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, stress, and high blood pressure.”

Honestly, no matter what age you are – the benefits of being outdoors is exponential.

But I also want to stress the importance of using caution when you are outdoors – this is especially true for seniors.

Some safety factors to consider are…

  • A good quality sunscreen on all exposed skin when you do go outdoors.  This is more important for seniors simply because their skin is thinner and more delicate.
  • Some medications can make your body more sensitive to the sun and heat.  There are 10 different types of medicine can increase your sensitivity to the sun. (This list is from Harvard Medical School online newsletter)
    1. antibiotics
    2. cancer drugs
    3. decongestants and older antihistamines
    4. diabetes medications
    5. diuretics
    6. cardiovascular medications
    7. hormones
    8. drugs for skin conditions
    9. pain relievers
    10. psychiatric drugs
  • For seniors with mobility issues – it’s important to use the right types of mobility aids to make it as safe as possible.

So, now that I’ve given you the precautions, let’s go over the wonderful benefits that older adults can get from being outside.

The list of benefits includes…

  • Good old Vitamin D – it’s hard to talk about the great benefits of being outdoors without mentioning the fact that you get a good dose of Vitamin D from the sun.
  • Exercise – for seniors who are mobile – the increased activity level while walking, tending to the garden, etc. provides some wonderful, low impact and usually a very safe type of exercise.
  • Stronger immune system – studies have shown that being outdoors increases our overall immune system.  Click here to read a study in Japan on “Forest Bathing” and it’s effects.
  • Human engagement – it’s not to say that every time you go outdoors you will engage with other humans (I walk 45 minutes most every day and I rarely speak to anyone during my walk).  But, getting outside, especially to areas that include many others, increases your chances of greeting friends, neighbors and meeting other people.
  • Better sleep – it’s fairly common knowledge that if you exercise during the day – you will generally sleep better at night.
  • Mental and spiritual boost – many seniors fall into a rut doing the same routines day in and day out.  As a result, depression and anxiety can creep in without them even realizing it.

What Outdoor Activities Are Good For Seniors?

The types of outdoor activities any older adult would do depends greatly on their physical and cognitive abilities.  Obviously, someone who has a great deal of difficulty walking would find it almost impossible to play golf or walk on the beach with a metal detector.

So, the following is just my list of activities for all types of seniors – but please consider the activities that match what you or your senior loved ones can do.

  • Metal Detecting – when I lived in South Florida and visited the beach I would always see at least one person with a metal detector.  It’s a very easy, low impact type of activity that can keep you outdoors for a few hours and hopefully you will find something very valuable!
  • Walking – my 97  year old  mom-in-law still walks every day for at least 15 minutes.  It’s such an easy activity that can be done alone or with others.
  • Gardening – this is a great activity for many older adults – even if you live in a condo you can still have a garden using containers.  I wrote an article on Safe Gardening Tips For Seniors so check it out if you are interested in participating in this activity.
  • Fishing – another fun activity for older adults (especially men I think) is fishing.  If you’re lucky enough to live near a waterway where you can go fishing, then this is an easy way to spend a few hours outdoors.
  • Golfing – there are so many beautiful golf courses everywhere, public ones and private ones.  If you are interested in this sport and better yet, if you are lucky enough to live in a community that provides a golf course then take advantage of it.
  • Photography – before my husband passed away he was starting a hobby of photography (he was very good at it).  It’s a wonderful way to explore places and your creativity as well.
  • Outdoor events – during spring, summer and autumn, most communities offer outdoor events such as concerts, festivals, farmers markets, etc.

Outdoor Activities For Elderly In Wheelchairs

Older adults in wheelchairs can certainly enjoy the many benefits of being outdoors – it just has to be modified a bit.  And you can also get a little creative too.

Here are some ideas of activities to do with your senior loved ones who happen to be in wheelchairs.

  • Indoor shopping – places like malls, indoor flea markets, farmers markets, specialty grocery stores, party stores, etc. are all excellent places to go.  There’s lots to see and it’s very easy to spend at least an hour browsing the store.
  • Dining and entertainment – going to coffee shops, restaurants, movie theaters as well as live theater is a wonderful way to get outside.  And if you are lucky enough to live in or near a town that offers live theater outdoors (I know my little town does) then you get to enjoy the show and take in the benefit of being outside!
  • Dock fishing – for anyone who enjoys fishing, doing so from a wheelchair can sometimes be difficult but if you can do it from a dock where the ground is fairly flat then it’s certainly doable.
  • Star watching – okay, so you won’t get the benefit of Vitamin D with this activity but you won’t have to worry about sunburn either!  Setting up a telescope for star watching is a wonderful activity for anyone who may be interested in this great hobby.

Outdoor Activities For Seniors With Dementia

Dementia and Alzheimers are very difficult, mostly for the caregivers.  And because there are so many different levels of dementia – it’s difficult to figure out what activities are safe to do with that person.

Here are my thoughts on what you can do with your senior loved one who happens to have these types of cognitive problems.

  • Safety – First and foremost, make sure that whatever you do, it’s safe.  Make sure not to leave that person alone (don’t want them to wander off), make sure to keep small items away from them (in case they try to eat it) and make sure to avoid the type of physical environment that could increase their chances of falling.
  • Pet farms – it has always been very well known that animals are very therapeutic for anyone suffering from any form of dementia.  Visiting pet farms and pet stores is an excellent activity to do with your senior loved one.  And for that matter, visiting friends who have pets!
  • Gardening – again, gardening pops up as an excellent senior activity in the outdoors.  I would recommend to keep it small so container gardening would be the best for older adults with cognitive issues.  Check out our list of recommended products for seniors who are engaged in gardening.
  • Walking – oftentimes, someone with dementia is in otherwise very good physical health.  In these cases, walking is an excellent outdoor activity but again, with caution as I mentioned above.

These are all just some ideas of what you can do to get outside and reap the benefits of the fresh air and sunshine.  If you have any other great ideas, feel free to share them with us – if we agree with you we will add them to this list!


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