For many seniors, the daily routine during the winter season takes place mostly indoors, especially if the cold weather causes discomfort or winter conditions provoke a fear of slipping and falling. It’s quite easy to find oneself stuck in a rut. As the temperatures rise and the sun shines a bit brighter, it is time to enjoy the opportunity to get outside. Don’t be surprised if you find an extra spring in your step as you venture outdoors – there is a great deal of research which shows that spending time outside and enjoying nature boosts cognitive, mental and physical health.
Benefits to Cognitive Health
Spending time outdoors, particularly when engaged in physical activity, provides a boost to cognitive functions, including memory, which is of great concern to aging individuals.
A study at the University of Michigan found a short walk in nature helped students improve their short-term memory by as much as 20%. Research has also touted the benefit of walking in nature to memory span in people who were diagnosed with depression.
Improvement in focus has also been observed following time in nature, pointing to the restorative effects of a natural environment. This improvement is compounded by adding physical activity to the time spent outdoors. One study of seniors over the age of 74 concluded that walking three times per week significantly improves cognitive functioning.
Boosts to Mental Health
Spending time outdoors has been shown to lift an individual’s mood, to decrease anxiety and to help with navigating life’s stressful events. Being in nature has been found to reduce feelings of anger, fear, and stress. In fact, research points to a reduction in stress and anxiety from the presence of even a single plant in a home, office or hospital.
Simply living in an area with more green space has been linked with improved mental health following stressful life events. Time outdoors has repeatedly been linked with improved sleep, brighter mood, and increased energy.
Boosts to Physical Health
The benefits of spending time outdoors is not limited mental health. Living near green space has been shown to reduce the number of general health complaints and result in better perceived physical health following stressful life events.
Seniors have been found to have fewer problems with inflammation following time in nature, as well as reduced cortisol levels and blood pressure. Short trips to the forest have also been demonstrated to lower stress hormones, boost the immune system, and potentially be preventative for cancer. Soaking up the sun helps to increase the levels of vitamin D in our bodies; 15 minutes of sunshine a day can help to strengthen bones and muscles as well as reduce risk factors for several types of cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and heart attack. Great exposure to green environments are associated with a longer life span as well as decrease incidence in cancer, lung disease and kidney disease.
Indeed, the benefits of spending time outdoors are worth considering. Physical conditions don’t have to prevent you from reaping these benefits, as Handicare offers solutions to make everyday (outdoor) life easier. We’ll see you outside!