While spending time outdoors is good for anyone, it can be especially important for seniors. It has been learned that simply being outdoors provides a surprising variety of physical and emotional health benefits. As the weather gets warmer, finding more opportunities to spend time outdoors is essential.
Boost Your Short-Term Memory
A study conducted at the University of Michigan looked at the effects of one’s environment on short-term memory. Volunteers were divided into two groups. The first group was asked to take a short walk around an arboretum, while the second group walked down a busy city street. Participants from both groups were administered memory tests prior to taking their walks and again upon returning from the walk. While those who walked the city street exhibited no change in their test results, the other group showed a 20% improvement in their memory test scores.
Reduce Internal Inflammation
As we age, the level of inflammation increases in our bodies as a result of a variety of factors. Depression, autoimmune disorders, and other medical conditions contribute to the inflammation in our bodies, but spending time outdoors seems to alleviate it. Studies have compared spending time in urban settings versus spending time in a forest, finding that those who were away from the city experienced a significant reduction of internal inflammation. In this way, several medical conditions can be alleviated simultaneously by spending enough time outdoors to reduce internal inflammation, especially when combined with a healthy diet.
Boost the Immune System’s Cancer-Fighting Ability
As we spend more time outdoors, the production of anti-cancer proteins goes into overdrive and can last up to seven days for each day spent outdoors. Many studies done in Japan have confirmed this and it has led to the practice of forest-bathing (shinrin-yoku). Those who live near forests in Japan have been found to have significantly lower mortality rates than those living in the cities. In 2010, this research was reviewed and the reviewing team concluded that living in or near the forest helped strengthen the overall functioning of the body’s immune system.
Exercise is Still Important
Walking is an excellent low-intensity cardio workout that can benefit many seniors who may not be able to engage in higher-intensity activities. Going for a short 30 minute walk in the woods or on a beach can be enough to fulfill your physical activity needs. It can be enough to get the heart pumping a little faster, improve respiration, and strengthen the muscles in your legs. Best of all, it doesn’t cost you anything, so it’s something you can do anytime.
Helps You Get Out of the House
Being stuck indoors day after day isn’t good for your emotional health and can contribute to conditions such as depression and anxiety. Research has found that people who spend just a little time outdoors each day experience an improvement in mental illness symptoms. Specifically, feelings of anxiety and depressive episodes are alleviated by getting outdoors. It gives you a new environment to explore, offers you opportunities to meet new people, and helps you discover new activities to enjoy.
Get Much Needed Vitamin D
While vitamin D is an essential nutrient that helps us fight off degenerative diseases, as well as protecting us against the common cold, most people have a deficiency. In fact, as much as 85% of all U.S. seniors have a significant vitamin D deficiency. Spending more time outdoors will help you build up your levels of vitamin D, which will strengthen your immune system in turn. To build up vitamin D without risking skin cancer and other skin conditions, avoid direct sunlight between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Additionally, always wear a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
Spending more time outdoors will help improve your overall wellbeing. In addition to giving your health a positive boost, it may help you find new activities that you enjoy. Even if you do nothing more than sit under the shade of a big tree, spending more time outdoors will benefit you in more ways than you can imagine.