For people of all ages, the list of benefits of spending time outdoors and engaging in activities in natural environments should be long enough to encourage you to get outside!
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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 in the Great Outdoors are a great way to boost your quality of life and your overall health.
But I also want to stress the importance of using caution when you are outdoors – this is especially true for senior citizens.
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 sun exposure 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)
- cancer drugs
- decongestants and older antihistamines
- diabetes medications
- cardiovascular medications
- drugs for skin conditions
- pain relievers
- psychiatric drugs
- For seniors with mobility issues – it’s important to use the right types of mobility aids to make outdoor time 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 health benefits of being outdoors without mentioning the fact that you get a good dose of Vitamin D from the sun. Optimum Vitamin D boost the immune system to help fight infections.
- Exercise – for seniors who are mobile – the increased aerobic activity level while walking, doing yard work, tending to outdoor spaces, etc., provides some wonderful, low impact and usually a very safe type of light 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.
- Social Interaction – 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 new people.
- Better sleep – it’s fairly common knowledge that if you exercise during the day – you will generally sleep better at night.
- Mental health and spiritual boost – many seniors fall into a rut doing the same types of activities 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 limitations 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 popular outdoor 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 100 year old mom-in-law still walks every day for at least 15 minutes. It’s such an easy form of physical 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. If you are considering Fly Fishing, check out this great article by PerfectCaptain.com.
- 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 you should take advantage of it on a regular basis
- Photography – before my husband passed away he was starting a hobby of photography (he was very good at it). It’s an excellent way to explore new places when you have leisure time, and your creativity as well.
- Outdoor events – during spring, summer and autumn, most communities offer outdoor events and different activities in their green spaces, such as concerts, festivals, farmers markets, etc.
- Water aerobics – if you have a pool (or access to one), this type of exercise is a fun way to get some regular physical activity, along with Vitamin D. Being in a pool makes it a low impact exercise, since the buoyancy takes pressure off arthritic joints.
Outdoor Activities For Elderly In Wheelchairs
Older people in wheelchairs can certainly enjoy the many benefits of being outdoors, enjoying natural beauty – it just has to be modified a bit for their limited mobility. And you can also get a little creative too.
Here are some ideas of recreational 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 Alzheimer’s disease affect cognitive function. These conditions can be very difficult, mostly for the caregivers and family members of a loved one who has been diagnosed with them.
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 impairments. 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 physical 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!