Everyday access to nature improves quality of life in older adults

July 9, 2015

Natural environments are known to promote physical, mental, and spiritual healing. People can attain health benefits by spending time outside, often in remote places to "get away from it all." Now research conducted by a University of Minnesota graduate student with a team in Vancouver, B.C., shows that green and "blue" spaces (environments with running or still water) are especially beneficial for healthy aging in seniors.

Published in the journal Health and Place, the study -Therapeutic landscapes and wellbeing in later life: Impacts of blue and green spaces for —demonstrates that by incorporating smaller features, such as a koi pond or a bench with a view of flowers, public health and urban development strategies can optimize nature as a health resource for older adults. Throughout the research, green and blue spaces promoted feelings of renewal, restoration, and spiritual connectedness. They also provided places for multi-generational social interactions and engagement, including planned activities with friends and families, and impromptu gatherings with neighbors.

"We zoomed in to everyday life for seniors between the ages of 65 and 86. We discovered how a relatively mundane experience, such as hearing the sound of water or a bee buzzing among flowers, can have a tremendous impact on overall health," says Jessica Finlay, a former research assistant on the project and lead author of the paper. Finlay is now a doctoral candidate in geography and gerontology at the University of Minnesota, where she continues to investigate influences of the built environment on health and well-being in later life. "Accessibility to everyday green and blue spaces encourages seniors to simply get out the door. This in turn motivates them to be active physically, spiritually and socially, which can offset chronic illness, disability and isolation."

Importance of everyday contact with nature

While younger generations may use green and blue spaces more to escape and rejuvenate from their busy work life, our participants used nature to be active physically, spiritually, and socially in later life. Many overcame barriers due to , disability, and progressing old age to connect regularly with green and blue spaces.

Natural environments enable older adults to uphold daily structure in retirement and provide opportunities for diverse activities outside the home. This is important to quality of later life by decreasing boredom, isolation, and loneliness; as well as boosting one's sense of purpose and accomplishment. Blue space in particular provides opportunities for non-weight bearing physical activity and physiotherapy (e.g. wading, water walking, swimming). Waterfront areas are comforting sites for spiritual connectedness with deceased loved ones, and relaxing places to escape the strains of later life.

"While our research may seem intuitive, it creates conversations on how to build communities that serve people across their entire lifetime. We don't just need a playground for children, we also need sheltered benches for the grandparents to watch them," says Finlay. "This research is more than anecdotal; it gives credence to some small but significant elements of everyday later life. Hopefully it will help urban planners and developers build communities that span a lifetime."

Finlay offers three tips for healthier aging:

  • Focus on your overall wellbeing: mental and social health are just as important as physical health when aging
  • Get out the door regularly, even if it's just to the end of the block and back
  • Prioritize everyday contact with nature - whether it's sitting in a park, listening to a water fountain, or looking at potted plants on a windowsill

The researchers interviewed adults aged 65 - 86 years who lived in Vancouver, B.C. All study participants were considered low-income, came from 8 different self-identified racial and ethnic groups, and experience a range of chronic conditions and experiences of .

Explore further: Access to green space reduces rich-poor divide in mental wellbeing

More information: For more information, see the full online article: authors.elsevier.com/a/1R2nG4pqpjSbXW

Related Stories

Access to green space reduces rich-poor divide in mental wellbeing

April 21, 2015
Having access to green spaces significantly reduces the gap in wellbeing between richer and poorer people a European study has found.

Aging couples connected in sickness and health

June 1, 2015
As the world's population of older adults increases, so do conversations around successful aging—including seniors' physical, mental and social well-being.

Risky outdoor play positively impacts children's health, says study

June 10, 2015
New research from UBC and the Child & Family Research Institute at BC Children's Hospital shows that risky outdoor play is not only good for children's health but also encourages creativity, social skills and resilience.

Green spaces deliver lasting mental health benefits

January 6, 2014
Green space in towns and cities could lead to significant and sustained improvements in mental health, finds a new study published in the journal of Environmental Science & Technology.

Recommended for you

High-fat diet in pregnancy can cause mental health problems in offspring

July 21, 2017
A high-fat diet not only creates health problems for expectant mothers, but new research in an animal model suggests it alters the development of the brain and endocrine system of their offspring and has a long-term impact ...

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

Fresh fish oil lowers diabetes risk in rat offspring

July 19, 2017
Fresh fish oil given to overweight pregnant rats prevented their offspring from developing a major diabetes risk factor, Auckland researchers have found.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.