Submitted by Holly Hall, CDP, CMP, CPASRM, Executive Director, The Village at Mercy Creek
Being outside contributes to both physical and mental well-being. This is especially true for older adults who may face various challenges that prevent them from getting outside. While safety and security are important for seniors with health or mobility issues, and being inside can offer that sense of security, getting outside and spending time in nature offers numerous health and wellness benefits.
Following are four ways that being outside positively impacts a person’s health and wellness.
1. Improves Sleep
Spending time outside is helpful for getting better quality sleep. Changes in our inner circadian rhythm—the body’s natural clock that signals when it is time to be alert and when it is time to sleep—is often the cause of disrupted sleep patterns. In addition to limiting exposure to artificial lighting in the evening, spending time outside and getting plenty of exposure to natural light during the day can help reset this internal clock. This helps individuals have energy during the day and get restful, better-quality sleep at night.
2. Increases Vitamin D Intake
Vitamin D deficiency is common among older adults. As we get older, the skin’s ability to synthesize vitamin D from the sun decreases, and most vitamin D is produced within the body in response to sunlight exposure. While sun exposure should be limited and combined with safety precautions, i.e., using sunscreen, it’s still an opportunity to naturally absorb vitamin D, which is vital to bone metabolism, calcium absorption, and other metabolic processes.
3. Improves Mental Health
The relaxed feeling provided by nature can boost the mood and overall levels of happiness. Studies show that being outside reduces stress, lowers the risk of depression, and increases focus and attention. So why is the outdoors good for lowering stress levels? Well, the scientific explanation is that sunshine will actually increase the blood flow to the brain, thus triggering the release of serotonin. That’s the hormone that influences our mood. Another major component of mental health is social connection.
The outdoors serves as a venue to come together with friends and family and connect with others.
4. Improves Physical Health
Spending more time outside means less time in front of the television. Natural outdoor environments are more enticing for taking a walk and provide the chance to garden or do other physical activities outside. Lowering stress levels can also help lower high blood pressure.
Most healthy people don’t think twice about walking out the door and taking a brisk walk, riding a bike, or sitting on the porch enjoying the sunshine. But for those with mobility or health issues, it may take a lot of energy just to move from the easy chair to get outside. Going out for a drive or a short excursion to a park or nature area can be simply exhausting. Sometimes a person’s living environment makes it more difficult to get outside.
One advantage of senior living communities is that it’s easy for residents to take a walk; sit outside and enjoy a beautiful day; or participate in excursions to various places outdoors. If assistance is needed, it’s readily available. There are outdoor areas on site that are designed to include flowers, water streams, trees, and birds and foster social connections.
No matter the activity, research tells us that simply being outside and enjoying nature can provide a variety of benefits for your energy, creativity, and mental and physical well-being. “The physiological response to being outside in nature is real, and it’s measurable,” said Michelle Kondo, a research social scientist with the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station. “There are many physical and psychological benefits of nature that scientists have observed, which can better help us understand how nature supports wellness in the body, mind, and community.” So get outdoors and enjoy nature’s gift of wellness.
At the Village at Mercy Creek, they believe joy should exist in every aspect of daily life. Each day is filled with possibilities and good times because that’s how they choose to live and serve within our community. They offer Independent Living, Assisted Living, and Respite Care services designed to meet the specific, often changing needs of their residents. To tour or learn more about the Village at Mercy Creek, located at 1501 Mercy Creek Drive in Normal, call 309-268-1501 or visit www.villageatmercycreek.org