Can the Great Outdoors Pave the Trail to Healthy Aging?

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From trendy supplements to costly skin treatments, older adults are always looking for ways to improve the aging process. But one of the most effective solutions could be as easy as opening the door and stepping outside. Health experts agree that spending time outdoors can strengthen and rejuvenate an aging body and brain, reduce the risk of illness and disease, and unearth a slew of energizing activities. Whether you love being in nature or not, consider making it a daily habit during your senior years. The benefits of healthy aging are just too mountainous to pass up.

Superpower Vitamin D Packs a Punch Outdoors

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, people spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors, a statistic that may be even higher for seniors. That translates to a lot of hours without fresh air, sunshine, or vitamin D. For older adults the lack of outdoor exposure is especially concerning since vitamin D is an essential nutrient with important health implications as you age. Not only does it help prevent serious diseases like cancer, osteoporosis, and the flu; vitamin D strengthens skeletal health, protects against an overactive immune system, improves blood pressure, and promotes better sleep.

Older adults should get between 600 and 800 IUs of vitamin D daily. While supplements and food sources can help achieve those levels, just minutes outdoors several days a week packs a vitamin D punch that’s hard to beat. Sunny days are best–you won’t get the full amount of the nutrient when it’s cloudy outside, says the National Institutes of Health–but you’ll still reap some benefit when the sky is gray. Of course, caution should be taken for older adults with a history of skin cancer or sun damage. Always limit sun exposure to the skin and wear sunscreen year-round to stay safe and healthy outdoors.

Spending Time in Nature Boosts Mental Health for Seniors

With the rates of loneliness and isolation high in older adults, spending time outside is more important than ever for mental health. Research has shown that being outside in nature can help stave off depression in seniors, but it also has the power to calm the mind, increase focus, bolsters cognitive function, and lift the mood. The reason? Studies suggest that nature and green spaces tend to relax the nervous system and reduce stress hormone levels, which have a positive impact on mental health.

Plus, by taking in the beauty of natural surroundings, people enjoy a sensory experience that brings a sense of peace, joy, wonder, and gratitude. It doesn’t matter where you are outside to get benefits either. Being near water, at a park, in the wilderness, or just in your backyard can all enhance mood and mental well-being. And you don’t need to be outside for long. Even five minutes of enjoying the great outdoors make a difference.

Outdoor Activities Make Exercise More Appealing

Getting motivated to exercise isn’t easy for everyone. Older adults in particular have a myriad of excuses for not exercising, from sore muscles and joints to fatigue to a general lack of interest. But being outside and breathing in the fresh, crisp air can quickly boost energy, stamina, and drive. More important, outdoor exercise offers many options that appeal to third agers and inspire them to engage in physical activity.

Walking, biking and swimming are all healthy, invigorating forms of exercise you can do alone or with a pet or human companion. For outdoor fun with a group, consider a game of golf surrounded by flourishing trees and lush greens. Tennis and the newest paddleball sport of pickleball are popular among senior adults as well and can provide hours of outdoor exercise and social entertainment. Looking for something more low-key? How about birdwatching, gardening, or reading a good book on the deck?

There’s plenty to do outside during the cold season, too. Comfortable winter days are ideal for putting on snow boots and walking outdoors on cleared paths and walkways. For a little more adventure, try snowshoeing or cross-country skiing through the woods amid the frost-covered trees. If mobility is an issue, you might browse an outdoor sculpture park, take a horse-drawn carriage ride, or visit an animal farm. Be sure to address safety concerns in cold weather. Dress appropriately, stay hydrated and watch for slick roads and pathways to avoid falls.

The trail to healthy aging is wide open. Do yourself a favor and get outside. The vast fresh air and natural beauty can make all the difference to your body, mind, and future.