Regardless of our age, it is vital to our overall health that we spend some time outdoors. Humans have an innate connection and attraction to nature, often referred to as “biophilia.” Exposure to nature and physical activity outdoors improves mental health and well-being. Greater enjoyment and opportunities for more social interaction may contribute to the outdoor activity experience.
Studies have shown that going outdoors can have long term health benefits for older adults. Older adults often have low levels of Vitamin D. We can get this from sunlight. Vitamin D deficiency is related to many chronic conditions including cancer, heart disease and poor bone health.
Fewer than 3 percent of older adults meet the medical recommendations of 150 minutes per week of activity. Older adults can benefit greatly from physical activity; improving physical, emotional and cognitive functioning. Limitations in physical functioning, fear of falling and neighborhood design may prevent older adults from being active outdoors.
Five reasons to get outdoors
- Boost Your Creativity and Focus
If you’re trying to solve a problem or come up with a brilliant idea, take a walk outside. One study found walking increased 81 percent of participants’ creativity, but walking outside produced “the most novel and highest quality analogies.”
- Improve Your Mood and Self-Esteem
Green exercise, which is exercise in the presence of nature, has unique benefits above and beyond indoor exercise. One meta-analysis of 10 studies found that physical activity outdoors for as little as five minutes leads to measurable improvements in mood and self-esteem.
- Increase Your Vitamin D Levels
It's estimated that over 95 percent of US senior citizens may be deficient in vitamin D, along with 85 percent of the American public.
Researchers have noted that vitamin D deficiency is prevalent in adults of all ages who have increased skin pigmentation (such as those whose ancestors are from Africa, the Middle East, or India), or who always wear sun protection or limit their outdoor activities.
Increasing your vitamin D levels is important, as researchers have pointed out that increasing levels of vitamin D3 among the general population could prevent chronic diseases that claim nearly one million lives throughout the world each year. Incidence of several types of cancer could also be slashed in half.
Vitamin D also fights infections, including colds and the flu, as it regulates the expression of genes that influence your immune system to attack and destroy bacteria and viruses. Research indicates about 30 minutes exposure twice a week for older adults is a sufficient amount, and remember to take common sense precautions with sunscreen, hats and the like, especially for extended periods of time outside.
- Improve Your Workouts
Exercising outdoors yields increased benefits over indoor exercise. In addition to boosting your mood, outdoor exercise can be more challenging, leading to greater physical gains. For instance, if you walk, jog, or cycle outdoors, you’ll have to expend more energy to overcome wind and changes in terrain.
Among older adults (a population that generally tends to spend very little time outdoors), those who exercise outdoors accumulated significantly more physical activity than those who exercised indoors. There’s even research showing levels of the stress hormone cortisol are lower when people exercise outdoors as opposed to indoors.
- Healing Potential
There’s something inherently healing about spending time outdoors. Part of it has to do with exposure to natural light. One study found people exposed to 46 percent more sunlight after surgery used 22 percent less pain medication per hour.
However, there are likely benefits even beyond the light exposure. Research shows, for instance, that older adults who spend more time outdoors have less pain, sleep better and have less functional decline in their ability to carry out their daily activities.
As you can see, with an increase in time spent out of doors enjoying the fresh air and nature, older adults can experience many benefits. Try adding a short walk in your neighborhood or nearby park a couple times a week and see how it improves your mood, focus, and overall health.
We would like to thank Wellness and Care Coordinator Nicole Hartog and Program Manager James Kuemmerle with the Senior Reach program at Community Reach Center for these insights during Mental Health Awareness Month. During this special month, and all year long, it is important for people suffering from mental health conditions and their loved ones to know that mental illness is treatable, and there is no shame in seeking assistance. In fact, asking for help is a sign of strength and a positive step forward that should be applauded.
To learn more about our Senior Reach program, visit our website at communityreachcenter.org or call us at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday. Community Reach Center provides leading Denver mental health centers to visit. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area of Adams County, including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.