There are many health benefits associated with being outdoors, including better mental and physical health. As you age, it’s even more important to get outdoors. Yet, only 15% of the elderly population maintain physical activity.
The Benefits of the Outdoors
Let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits of spending time outdoors.
1. Improves mood
Spending time in nature has a significant impact on your mood. By being in a green space and taking in sunlight, you decrease your cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone most associated with stress. Time outside also increases your dopamine levels, which is the hormone most associated with happiness.
Being outside literally puts your body in a better state of homeostasis, or a well-balanced state. Time in nature also helps you be more alert and has been shown to decrease depression.
2. Decrease inflammation and pain
Studies have shown that when a person is outside, and more specifically in nature and among plant life, their blood pressure decreases.
The Japanese call this “forest bathing.” It was found that individuals who spent two nights in nature, in comparison to two nights in an urban setting, had a significant decrease in their blood pressure and stress levels. This decrease in blood pressure directly impacts an individual’s inflammation.
3. Regulates sleep
An additional benefit to spending time outdoors is the positive impact that sunlight has on your sleep. Essentially, more time outdoors helps to reset your circadian rhythm, resulting in more restful sleep.
Your circadian rhythm is your body’s natural internal clock that runs on a 24-hour cycle. Much like it is recommended to give a newborn infant time outdoors with natural sunlight so that they recognize when daytime is, the same is true for all ages. Inadequate sunlight confuses the body, resulting in a restless night’s sleep.
4. Boosts immune system
Time in the sun helps to boost your cell’s natural healing abilities, as it helps to energize cells, much like plant life needs sunlight to grow.
In addition to the sunlight’s benefits, plants also help by putting organic material into the air called phytoncides. These phytoncides have antimicrobial properties that help protect against infection and disease.
Important Health Practices the Elderly Should Engage In
There are many important health practices that individuals should engage in, but as you age, they become more vital to your health and longevity.
Improve Muscle Mass
By the time an individual reaches the age of 30, they begin to lose 3-8% of their muscle mass every ten years. This percentage loss increases even more by the time a person reaches the age of 60.
Loss of muscle is directly linked to many disabilities in the elderly population, and also contributes to the risk of falling. Furthermore, falls are the biggest cause of injury-related deaths in the elderly.
- Protein. One of the best ways to help counteract muscle loss is by increasing protein consumption. While the standard recommendation for protein in a sedentary adult is just .8 grams/ kilogram of a person’s body weight, this number increases up to 1.2 grams/ kilogram of body weight for individuals above the age of 60. With this in mind, it is recommended that the average woman gets at least 90 grams of protein per day, while the average man gets about 110 grams per day.
- Resistance Training. Another way to help counteract the loss of muscle mass while aging is to actively build muscle. This can be done through resistance training or strength training.
There are a variety of fun and engaging activities for the elderly to get them outdoors and in nature. Oftentimes, these activities do not require vigorous exercise and can be performed at most ages.
- Fishing. This has long been a valued pastime for individuals who love the outdoors. Due to the nature of the sport, fishing often gives individuals time to reflect, breathe in the fresh air, and take advantage of the many benefits nature has to offer. An angler, better known as a fisherman, needs little more than a fishing rod to enjoy the hobby.
- Pickleball. This sport is similar to tennis but less physically demanding. It has been rising in popularity in recent years, and allows individuals to get light cardio while socializing with friends and soaking up the benefits of the sun and fresh air.
- Walking/Hiking. These activities are super beneficial at any age. While walking is beneficial in helping to maintain your weight, adding in an arm swing, or even a pump to your arms, enables you to create better balance, raise your heart rate for a more impactful exercise, and also simultaneously helps tone the muscles in your arms and back.
- Gardening. This hobby has multiple benefits. Not only can you work to produce fresh fruits and vegetables for a more well-rounded diet, but you also have the added benefit of working in the dirt. This connection with soil has proven to show an increase in your immune system, and also helps to make you happier.
- Golf/ Miniature Golf. Golf is a well-loved sport, as it provides you time outdoors, but also time walking. Golfing also affords you an opportunity to socialize, which is essential for building community. There is a direct link between social connection and health, meaning the more social the individual, the better the exercise and diet choices they make.
- Reading and Photography. Although not necessarily physical, by shifting reading to the outdoors, you are better able to benefit from the location. The same holds true for photography. As you actively seek out beauty and nature, you are actively engaging in forest bathing. Thus, you simultaneously breathe in the phytoncides, reduce your stress levels, decrease your blood pressure and inflammation, and help to reset your circadian rhythm.
Improve Your Health By Getting Outside and Connecting with Nature
The great outdoors are beneficial to individuals of all ages, and the earlier you start to incorporate healthy habits that get you outside, the greater impact you will make on your health and wellness.