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The Benefits of Outdoor Activities for Seniors
by Hannah Kloepfer
06/30/2022

Now that it’s officially summer, we’ve got our sights on a season of sunshine and the great outdoors. For many New Yorkers, experiencing nature can feel like a foreign concept in our big city, but we’re here to assure you that the many health benefits of being outside can be as easily accomplished in your local park, garden, rooftop, or balcony as they can from a trip to the beach or hike through the mountains.  

In this article, we will highlight the benefits of outdoor activities on the emotional and physical health of older adults; and offer suggestions for outdoor experiences that can be easily introduced to any New Yorker’s healthy lifestyle. 

Health Benefits of Getting Outside

It almost sounds too good to be true, but outdoor activities have been proven to better sleep, increase creativity, decrease depression, and improve mode. The combination of fresh air, movement, socialization, and sunshine all contribute to improved emotional and physical health:

In a 2019 study by Scientific Reports, a group of participants that included “older adults and those with long-term health issues” spent two hours (120 minutes) in nature over the course of a week. At the end of the study, these participants who changed their routines by going outside reported higher levels of “good health and well-being” as opposed to those who did not spend time outside. 

In addition to these emotional health benefits, spending time outside is proven to have a positive impact on physical health as well. A 2018 study by the Journal of Environmental Research examined a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and lower levels of cortisol in participants with “greenspace exposure.” 

What’s more, these benefits occur with relative low time commitment! Consider, for example, the benefits of Vitamin D, an essential nutrient shown to lower the risk of conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis as well as reduce inflammation and muscle pain: the time it takes to get the recommended daily dose of Vitamin D is just 15 minutes! 

We also appreciate the opportunity for community that getting outside provides. In addition to getting creative with indoor activities, many of our clients and caregivers have found joy in exploring the natural settings New York City has to offer. From a trip to Central Park, Wave Hill, or even the nearby dog park, the fresh air alone can help reinvent a stale routine.

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The suggestions below are based on both academic research on the benefits of outdoor activities as well as anecdotes from trusted New Yorkers in our community:

Exercise

The extra hours of daylight in the summer months certainly make it easier to schedule outdoor fitness routines. In fact, many of the physical benefits attributed to outdoor activities (did we mention improved cardiovascular health?) are thanks to seasonal exercise like taking a yoga mat outside, riding a bike, playing tennis/badminton, or adding an extra loop to a morning stroll. 

Of course, the benefits of a natural setting can be enjoyed by those with any level of physical capacity… 

Energize

Time spent outdoors is even believed to improve memory function and increase creativity. With this added boost of creative energy, try making the world an art studio! Bring a sketch book to the park or set up an easel on a rooftop. View your neighborhood through a (literal) new lens by taking up photography or research outdoor theater performances!

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Socialize

Inviting others to join in a new outdoor activity encourages accountability and helps make meaningful, lasting connections. Taking a joint nature walk, attending an outdoor concert or movie, and taking a picnic to the park are all great options for a summer in the city. Plus, scheduling these experiences regularly offers everyone involved something to look forward to. 

Unwind

That’s right, rest can be an outdoor activity. The benefits of being outside are inherent to the experience, so you don’t actually need to “do” anything; you just need to “be.” Read a book. Sit and smell fresh cut grass. Bring binoculars for an afternoon of birdwatching. And if you’re feeling stuck about what plans to make, just getting out of the house and breathing can be inspiring. 

And last but not least… 

Recover

During and after any outdoor activity, it’s important to monitor yourself or your loved ones for signs of sunburn, dehydration, exhaustion, or overheating. Those signs indicate that it’s time to head back inside. You can plan ahead for your favorite excursions by packing enough water, sunblock, portable fans, or hats/umbrellas to guarantee shade. 

Remember, many of the benefits of being outdoors can be achieved in just a couple of hours per week (minutes per day). Keep that in mind, and you’ll set yourself up for a successful summer of sun, fun, and better health!

(Tip: for more ways to stay active in your community this summer, be sure to check our Activity Calendar regularly!)


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