The Great Outdoors: Benefits of Outdoor Activities for the Elderly

an elderly couple enjoy fresh air by the sea

 

Spring is just around the corner, and we’re seeing signs of bulbs pushing their way up in our gardens at our North Devon and Somerset care homes. It’s a welcome sign of hope and a perfect reminder that getting outside is wonderful and beneficial for all of us.

It’s not just an old-wives tale either. Studies involving over 290 million people have shown that time spent outside in greenspace has an incredible array of benefits on our health, from reducing cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes risk, to reducing stress, premature death and blood pressure.

At the moment, with the pandemic still placing restrictions on us, heading outdoors is one thing we can do. So, what are some of the benefits that are particularly relevant to the elderly?

Benefits of being outside for the elderly

1.     Vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin

We’re all becoming more aware of the sizeable benefits of Vitamin D. Our bodies mostly get the Vitamin D that we need from the sun. In the UK, we particularly need to spend some time outside everyday between March and October to get enough Vitamin D.

What we’re probably less aware of, is how important Vitamin D is for the elderly. One study found that sufficient Vitamin D and calcium intake reduced the risk of hip fractures in the elderly by 16%. Another found that older adults with lower levels of Vitamin D displayed more depressive symptoms. Yet another study found that elderly individuals with a healthy Vitamin D level were at decreased risk of blood and colon cancers.

This vitamin is enough of a reason by itself to get your elderly loved ones and care home residents out into the fresh air!

2.     Exercise and mobility

For elderly individuals, many of whom have limited mobility already, getting sufficient exercise to maintain and build strength, is very difficult.

We’ve talked previously about some of the indoor activities and chair exercises which suit elderly people with limited mobility – many of these could be done outdoors too. Additionally, a low impact garden walk, or even a spot of gardening, can be a safe and enjoyable exercise and pastime.

As coronavirus restrictions ease, you may like to consider some of our recommended days out in North Devon and Somerset as an opportunity to get out and active in the great outdoors.

3.     Immune-boosting

Vitamin D is immune-boosting, but it’s believed that the immunity supporting benefits of being in the Great Outdoors go beyond Vitamin D alone. Simply being outside among nature, like with the Japanese concept of ‘Forest Bathing’, has been shown to strengthen our overall immune system.

Walking outdoors has been shown to have a remarkable effect on the level of white blood cells in our blood, which are an immune marker. At the same time, blood pressure is reduced and our heart rate calms.

Being more resilient to illness is of vital importance for our elderly loved ones.

4.     Better quality sleep

There’s no doubt about it, our residents who spend some time outdoors exercising experience much better quality sleep. This seems to connect also with a greater sense of vitality during waking hours.

Exercise itself is beneficial to aiding sleep. However, by exercising outdoors, you are exposing yourself to plenty of natural daylight which helps to regulate circadian rhythms.

5.     It feels great

Lastly, let’s not underestimate the importance that a change of scene, an opportunity to commune with nature and a chance to build relationships has on our elderly loved ones. Even in care homes with friendly and engaging staff as well as diverse and interesting activity programmes, like at Eastleigh, residents still often spend much of their time in the same place.

By getting outdoors, enjoying fresh scents and vibrant greens, with some sunshine on their face, elderly care home residents simply feel better.

Outdoor activities for the elderly

Just being outdoors helps to bring many of the benefits above. However, doing activities outside is even better, where possible. Adapt the outdoor activity to your loved one’s ability. Stay close and enjoy the time together. Here are some suggestions:

·         Beach excursion

Westward Ho! has disabled access to the beach.

·         Walks

A gentle stroll on a flat and well-maintained path can be enjoyed by mobile elderly people, as well as those in a wheelchair. Our article about places to take elderly parents in North Devon gives you some suggestions on where you can go.

·         Gardening

Many of our residents are green fingered and love an opportunity to get out and help in our gardens and grounds. It’s a relaxing and mindful activity.

·         Metal detecting

Metal detecting is low impact and fun, plus you never know what you will find!

·         Photography

Getting out to a beautiful local spot and taking a camera or smartphone gives a focus to the trip as well as memories to cherish.

Whatever your elderly loved one enjoys doing, as the weather improves, encourage them to spend more time outside. It’ll do them and you the world of good!