Have you ever felt peace wash over your soul and your troubles and worries fade into the background while standing in a rainforest, walking along the beach and dipping your toes in the water, or climbing to the top of a mountain and looking down at the scenery? Chances are you have – because there are undisputed benefits to both health and wellbeing to be found in nature.
Here are some of them:
- Stress levels are often directly related to the amount of green space surrounding us – people are less likely to be stressed if they are surrounded by more green space. As well, we often seek out nature during times of high stress; as being in nature is a powerful way to access some stress relief.
- Spending time in nature can lead to better mental health, lower blood pressure, and reduced risks of obesity or heart disease.
- Being amongst nature is mentally restorative. Our feelings of happiness and serenity increase within minutes of seeing green spaces and our stress levels fall.
- Exposure to green spaces over a prolonged period of time may build up immunity to the impact of stress.
- The proximity of green spaces may lead to improvements in conditions such as chronic fatigue, post-traumatic stress disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and anxiety.
- Walking in natural green spaces has the effect of lowering feelings of anger, fatigue and depression and increasing attention levels.
- People moving from urban to greener areas have shown an immediate improvement in mental health that lasted for at least three years.
- When there is more green space, people tend to respond better to disruptive and negative life events, either by coping better or by not getting as stressed in the first place.
Spending time in nature is often refreshing, invigorating and restorative. However, too often we find ourselves a few steps removed from the natural world in modern life. We tend to spend hours under artificial light indoors, often focussed on a glowing screen. This is to our detriment – particularly as we get older.
Studies have shown that spending time in nature is extremely important for the health and wellbeing of older adults and can have a particularly powerful effect the older you get. Nature truly is fuel for the soul and the mind. Here’s how spending time in nature can help prevent cognitive decline in older adults.
It can help relive depression, anxiety and stress and improve mental health
Nature has a restorative effect on mental health and wellbeing. Studies have shown that undertaking physical activity in green spaces is linked to improved cognitive function, as well as lower stress levels, reduced chance of depression and an increase in mood and feelings of happiness. And even leaving physical activity aside, time spent in nature shows a dramatic restorative effect on mental health. This is especially important for older adults, who often experience stress and depression linked to the loss of loved ones and failing health.
It can improve concentration and memory
Amazingly, spending time outside can improve attention span and memory performance by as much as 20%! Experts have likened the effect of spending time in nature to meditating, which can help us remember things, improve our ability to focus and allow our brains to recharge.
It can increase physical activity levels
Regular physical activity is important for a better quality of life as we age. Getting out into nature provides opportunities for walking, climbing or gardening that can reap enormous benefits in terms of improved health and wellbeing, and can offset illness and disability.
It’s never too late to start exercising either. Read more here.
It facilitates more social interaction
Getting outside provides more chances for social interaction that otherwise might not occur. It’s far too easy for older people to settle into a comfortable inside existence, which unfortunately often leads to isolation and loneliness. Older people with greater exposure to green common spaces (such as parks and walkways) experience a far greater sense of unity and belonging to the community – which also has a positive effect on cognitive health.
It can boost the immune system
Spending time in nature can improve cardiovascular and metabolic health, as breathing fresh air provides a major boost to the immune system by helping our bodies produce more white blood cells (which battle inflammation and viruses).
It can increase energy levels
It’s no coincidence that we often feel more alive and energetic when outside. Connecting with nature is one of the best ways to get energised, leading to increased blood flow to the brain and improved cognitive health.
It can lower your risk for certain diseases
Your risk of contracting chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and respiratory problems can be lowered by spending time in green spaces. What’s more, you’re likely to heal faster when looking at a nature-filled view.
It can help you sleep better
Studies have found that people who regularly interact with nature sleep better than those who don’t – and we all know the benefits of quality sleep for concentration and mental performance.
It can help dementia suffers
For those at risk of developing dementia, spending time in nature can actually help reduce, slow or prevent cognitive decline. As well, for those already suffering from dementia, an increased connection with the natural environment can stimulate the memory and senses and help them experience a greater sense of self-esteem and identity, social inclusion and feelings of independence. Spending time outdoors really can enable dementia patients to live richer and more fulfilling lives – and thus is well worth the effort.
It can help you live longer
What all these things add up to is better cognitive performance and a longer life for those who spend regular time in green spaces.
Read more about the secrets to living a longer, healthier life here.
How older people can spend more time in nature
It doesn’t matter if you’re still living in your own home, or in a retirement village or aged care facility, there are ways you can incorporate nature time into your life:
- Go for a stroll around your garden and take in the beauty of the plants and flowers.
- Take up gardening.
- Go for a walk – even if you don’t live in a natural beauty area, going for a walk around your neighbourhood can still bring benefits.
- Take up an outdoor activity such as birdwatching, fishing or swimming.
- Go for a day trip to the nearest beach.
- If you have grandchildren, play outdoor games with them.
- Take your family for a picnic in the park (there are plenty of parks and outdoor areas around with wheelchair or mobility access if you need that).
- Instead of watching TV, take a chair out into the garden and read a good book.
- Take an outdoor holiday.
- Visit a sensory garden (good for older people who are visually impaired).
- Bring nature inside if you are limited in your outdoor pursuits, with an indoor garden, pot plants or herbs.
- If you really can’t get outside, use your computer to play calming natural sounds, such as waves crashing on the beach or birdsong.
- If you live in an aged care facility, sit outside during visits from friends or family members.
Whichever way you do it, make sure you bring more nature time into your life – and reap the many benefits.
To learn about the importance of gardens in aged care, click here.