Five Reasons The Outdoors Are Good For Seniors


Get Outside!
Spending time outside can mean a healthier, happier you.

It’s summer, warmer temperatures and fragrant flowers beckon us to go outside. Yet most of us will resist the temptation: according to one government estimate, we spend 90 percent of our lives indoors. But what if we knew that being outside offers measurable health benefits? Just take a look at what science says about the physical and mental advantages of spending time outside.

The Protective Power of D
Perhaps the best outdoor boost to our health comes from vitamin D, which our bodies create when sunshine hits our skin. Vitamin D may have protective powers against everything from osteoporosis to cancer, and help prevent depression, heart attacks and stroke. Almost all of our vitamin D comes from exposure to sunshine.  Long exposure to direct sunlight requires sunscreen, which inhibits vitamin D production.  But spending just 15 to 20 minutes outside, especially in the morning or evening, is a safe and healthy way to get your D.

Let there be Light!
Lack of sunlight during the winter months is associated with a type of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Experts are not sure what causes SAD, but they hypothesize that lack of natural light disrupts our biological clock, which controls our sleeping patterns. Lack of light also may affect serotonin, a brain chemical that influences mood. SAD is far less common during the long days of spring and summer.

For Otterbein resident Rhea Vezmar, finding sunlight is an everyday experience. “Our home has a sun porch, which is the highlight of our living experience,” she says. “Plus, we border a green space with a pond and trees and a lovely setting. There are so many fun activities — I feel like I’m at summer camp 365 days a year!”

Even just smelling the outdoors can have a measurable effect on our mental health.  Flowers such as lilacs and roses are proven stress busters, and the scent of pine needles has been shown to lower depression and anxiety.

Brain Power
Walking among trees has been shown to improve short-term memory by almost 20 percent and restore one’s ability to focus. A recent study in Japan found that people who walked in a forest for just 15 minutes experienced a 16 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, a two percent drop in blood pressure, and a four percent drop in heart rate, when compared to people who walked for the same amount of time on city streets.

Studies show that by spending time outside, you can counteract some of the pollutants that may increase inflammation and fatigue. In one study, surgery patients experienced less pain and stress when they were exposed to natural light. Natural environments have even been shown to have a positive effect on the human immune system.

With all these advantages, it’s no wonder that older adults who get outside on a daily basis seem to stay healthy and active longer.  So, the next time you sense the call of the great outdoors, be sure to answer by heading out the door. You can be sure your heart, mind and body will thank you!