If you’re over 50, you likely spend a little more time than you used to thinking about your health and how to maintain it. But, did you know, you have FREE access to one of the best health and longevity boosters there is? It’s true and I’m going to tell you why…
Daily Nature Visits: Zap Stress, Boost Happiness and Longevity
Did you ever notice how great you felt after going for a barefoot walk on a sandy beach, or riding your bike through beautiful, rolling scenery, or just sitting quietly on a bench in the middle of a botanical garden? That’s the positive, real health boosting effect of Nature at work.
Spending daily time in Nature has many real, measureable effects on your physical, mental and spiritual health that researchers are just beginning to gain a better understanding of. And if you’re over 50, Nature can be a real ally as it affects many of the health issues that older people face.
For example, here are several of the positive effects that frequent Nature visits has on your health:
1. Lowers blood pressure which helps heart, kidneys and brain.
2. Stimulates all your senses, boosting perception skills.
3. Boosts immune function by decreasing stress/cortisol hormone levels.
4. Lowers blood sugar which stress aggravates.
5. Brightens mood – boosts brain serotonin levels.
6. Boosts heart and brain health through greater oxygen uptake.
A recent study out of the University of Minnesota has found that older people who spend more time in blue (beaches, pools) and green (forests, golf courses, flower gardens, etc) environments positively affects aging. Older people who lived nearby natural environments that they could “escape” to often, lived longer, in better health, and were happier. They were more willing to get outside, walk, and/or spend time with friends in these places.
As a result, the study’s authors are urging urban planners to incorporate more elements of “blue” and “green” natural environments into urban areas and/or senior communities. For example, adding even a running water fountain, or a botanical butterfly garden, surrounded by benches where people can sit quietly with their thoughts, or spend time with family and friends has a positive effect.
Younger people often make use of Nature as a way to escape their hectic work lives or boost their social lives. But for older people, getting out in Nature frequently actually is seen as something they need to do to stay happy and healthy.
Researchers feel it’s because getting out in Nature represents a freedom that may start to become lost in senior years. You may be retired, and just not getting out much anymore, so spending time in Nature can offer a replacement for those lost activities. It offers a chance to exercise and interact with living things.
Blue areas, i.e. lakes, public pools, offer opportunities to exercise by swimming or pool walking. Waterfront beach walks offer a quiet respite and reconnection to your spiritual side, especially if you’ve lost someone in your life. A walk, or sunset picnic on the beach can offer a romantic boost to your love relationship, or a problem solving opportunity with friends or family.
Green areas, forests, zoos, botanical gardens, parks, offer opportunities to exercise like walking, biking, and interacting with the sights and sounds of living creatures (birds, bees, squirrels, etc). These “interactive” environments stimulate your sensory perception and boost your brain power. The ongoing problem solving, or decision making, opportunities that they offer your cognitive ability are important to your brain health. I have a few patients who are city/suburban dwellers who make a point to explore different Natural environments frequently just for the stimulation and “feel good” opportunities they offer.
So, what do you do if you don’t live near lakes, forests, parks, etc? Well, you can always plan day trips to areas within an hour or driving distance. Maybe make a weekend visit out of it. But here are some other suggestions to get “nearby” benefits of blue and green environments:
1. Get outdoors everyday. Even if it’s just for a walk around the block. If you need assistance with mobility, find someone to assist/accompany you, whether it’s a friend, relative, or someone you hire. Places like Care.com specialize in matching up people with mobility issues with a compassionate aide. You might also look into investing in a motorized scooter or chair. Many insurances cover them and you may qualify to get one free or for a very reduced price.
2. Build your own personal green/blue environment. A backyard deck, porch, or even a a small terrace space on an apartment can become a health-rejuvenating blue/green space. You can create a container garden of as many pots as your space will comfortably hold. To make it an even more enjoyable experience, use specific plants/flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. You can even add an electricity powered patio-size water fountain to give the sound of water running/falling. These are bought already assembled at garden shops and local Home Depots. All you have to do is find the right spot for them in your area and plug them in.
3. Find a “blue” environment near you. Most Family YMCA’s have pools, either indoor or outdoor. In addition, many cities have community pools where you can swim for a small daily fee or even join as a membership. These pools often have “wading river” lanes where you can just walk with/against the current. These offer a good aerobic workout while strengthening leg muscles. They often have other pool use equipment like water weights that you can use to build upper body strength as well.
No matter how you get your Nature experience in, make room for it in your life frequently. The health benefits will start showing up in how you feel in no time.