March 27, 2019

Hans Christian Andersen famously said:

“Just living is not enough. One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”

As it turns out, this master of storytelling may have been on to something greater than even he knew.

If you’ve ever felt your troubles wash away after dipping your toes in a river, or been able to take a deep, relaxing breath while gazing out at the treetops, then you know that nature can be rejuvenating, reinvigorating, and refreshing. There are very real health benefits to going out and enjoying all of the wonders that the natural world has to offer – and that’s particularly true for seniors!

Over the years, a growing body of research has shown that nature can be a powerful tool when it comes to helping older adults live longer, feel better, and remain independent.

The Health Benefits of Nature for Aging Adults

Did you know that enjoying nature can help seniors:

Give Their Immune Systems a Boost

Studies have shown that getting to spend time around the natural world can give seniors’ immune systems a major boost. For example, one prominent study from right here in Chicago found that living in a neighborhood near lots of trees and plant life can help people feel better on a daily basis, and improve their overall cardiovascular and metabolic health. As New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation points out, there is also a major immunity boost that comes with breathing fresh air, which is full of healthful chemicals from plants that can help our bodies produce more white blood cells, to battle viruses and inflammation.

Help Relieve Stress, Anxiety, and Depression

Spending time in nature can help improve our moods, and reduce feelings of depression, stress, and anxiety. One major University of Michigan study found that going for nature walks shows a direct link with “significantly lower depression and perceived stress,” as well as “enhanced mental well-being.” A massive global study also revealed that those who spend more time with nature report having healthier blood pressure, a lower heart rate, and less stress than those who do not get to spend time soaking up the natural world.

Increases Energy Levels

Getting to spend time outside, even a few moments a day, could lead to a big burst of healthy energy for aging adults. One study from the University of Rochester, for instance, found that being exposed to nature helped increase rates of energy and vitality in test subjects – more so than any other type of stimulus. There’s also the practical side of things. Going outside can help older adults get some sun, which in turn helps lead to healthier Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D has been connected to increased energy, improved mood, and better overall physical health, for people of all ages.

Improve Memory and Concentration

Going out into nature can do wonders to help older adults improve their memories, while honing their focus and attention to detail. And all it takes is spending a few minutes a day outdoors! Research from the University of Michigan has found that spending just an hour outside can improve  “memory performance and attention span” by as much as 20 percent. As one of the authors of the study put it: “Interacting with nature can have similar effects as meditating.” Getting to focus on plants and animals, rather than screens or walls, can allow our brains to recharge, improving our natural ability to focus and remember things over time.

Reduce Chronic Illness and Pain

Studies have shown that people who spend more time in green spaces and forests may be at lower risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other chronic health conditions, including cancer and respiratory problems. At the same time, people who interact with nature report better sleep habits than those who don’t get to enjoy the natural world. How’s this for a fun fact: One major study found that hospital patients who were able to look out at nature during recovery were able to heal faster, and with fewer complications, that those who recuperated without a nature-filled view.

Increase Longevity

Being able to enjoy nature can also help adults to live longer, more fulfilling lives. One major study from Harvard University found that living near trees and other types of vegetation can help people live up to 12 years longer, on average. What’s more, going outside can come with other benefits that may increase longevity. For example, older adults who spend more time outdoors may be more physically active than their peers, which can help seniors live longer while remaining healthy and independent. In that same vein, older adults who go outside may get more chances to be more social, whether they’re part of a gardening club or simply making conversation with neighbors. Remaining socially connected has been shown to offer many benefits to aging adults, including improved health, greater happiness, and extended lifespan.

You Can Help Your Elderly Family Enjoy the Healing Powers of Nature

Looking to help your elderly loved one gain some of these amazing health benefits? Here are five ways that family caregivers can help their seniors connect with nature:

  • Go for a Walk
    Taking a stroll can help your loved one get outside and into nature. Whether you take your senior loved one for a nature walk or simply a circuit around the block, the health benefits can be enormous.
  • Pick up Gardening
    Gardening is a low impact activity, which can have some absolutely remarkable health benefits for seniors. In fact, gardening – which has been classified as a “moderate” level of physical activity – has been shown to help older adults reduce their risk for heart attack and stroke, lower stress levels, and improve their immune systems.
  • Take It Easy
    One of the amazing things about being outdoors is that seniors can soak up the health benefits, without having to exert themselves too hard. In many cases, just being outside and being present can be enough for older adults to see some amazing effects. With that in mind, find ways to relax outdoors – go for a picnic, share a meal outside, sit by a beloved garden or fountain, or watch the sunrise from the front stoop.
  • Find a Favorite Outdoor Activity
    Does your aging parent love to go bird watching? Are they a fan of going fishing? Would the senior in your life be happiest going to the local pool for a swimming or water aerobics session? Whatever outdoor activities your older relative loves, help them find ways to explore their interests, and they may be more likely to stick with the activity in the long-term.
  • Bring the Natural World Inside
    In some cases, it may help to bring a little bit of nature indoors. An indoor garden, a few green plants scattered throughout the home, a pot of herbs on the windowsill – these can all be great ways to help your senior family member get some dirt under their nails and experience a refreshing slice of the outdoors, while remaining safe in the comforts of home.

How Companions for Seniors Can Help

If you’re a family caregiver who wants to help your loved one connect to enriching experiences, but can’t quite find the time to put your big plans into motion, Companions for Seniors is here to help!

At Companions for Seniors, our mission is to help seniors live independently and with dignity in the comfort of their own home by empowering them to lead an active and enriched lifestyle, connecting them with their community, and nurturing meaningful relationships.

We offer a variety of services that can help your senior loved one find peace and happiness in nature. Would your senior loved one benefit from having a companion to accompany them on their daily walks? Would they love a dining companion to share meals and stories al fresco? Could having a reliable driver on hand help you and your loved one plan trips to the park, or a local arboretum or botanical garden? At Companions for Seniors, we help ensure that seniors get the support and attention they need, while giving time back to family caregivers who may need some respite of their own.

Our companions are trained, bonded, and insured, and can help provide a variety of services designed to help your loved one thrive while remaining in place. We’re locally owned in the Chicago area, with clients in the city and suburbs.

Have any more questions? Looking for personalized care for your aging loved one? Get in touch online or give us a call today to keep the conversation going!