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Why the Great Outdoors is REALLY Great for Seniors (and everyone else)

For many of us, much of our childhood was spent playing outdoors—kicking the can in a back alleyway, searching for tadpoles in the creek, riding bikes everywhere and anywhere or playing mumbly peg in the backyard (yikes). Remember the feeling of excitement and energy you got? The rush of discovery and feeling totally alive?

There’s something about the great outdoors—whether it’s as small as a patch of wildflowers in a nearby park or the view from atop a mountain—that speaks to our souls and inspires, rejuvenates and transforms us. And we’re not just saying that to be all hippy-dippy. It’s been proven that being outdoors can improve sleep, boost moods, reduce the need for pain medication, fill you up with Vitamin D, strengthen relationships and more.

As we age, it can be harder and harder to get out and get mobile. But as with any journey, it’s only the first step that’s the hardest. By making outside adventures a focus in your life, you’ll be amazed at how many benefits you can reap.

A Healthier You

Let’s start with the hard, quantifiable facts: being outside just makes you a healthier person. Studies have shown that individuals recovering from surgery have shown a decrease in pain, shorter times in the hospital and a quicker path to full health from being exposed to natural light and fresh air.

For the normal and non-recovering-from-things folks, being outdoors has been proven to boost white blood cell count, which helps build a stronger immune system. Vitamin D levels increase, too (since, as we all know, the sun is the natural producer of this vitamin), which means protection from a variety of illnesses such as some cancers, heart disease and osteoporosis. And a study done by the University of Chicago in 2015 shows that just living in an area with lots of trees lowers stress levels and blood pressure.

On the mental health side, a University of Michigan study states that seniors who spend time in nature can improve attention span and memory performance by 20 percent. One big reason, they speculate, is because natural settings are much less stressful than an urban environment, which automatically helps minds relax and focus.

A More Energetic You

Being outside just naturally raises energy levels. You’ve more than likely experienced that yourself. (And if you haven’t, a University of Rochester study says that 90 percent of individuals experience a higher level of energy from being outside.) Being energetic has all sorts of positives, such as—well—continuing to be energetic and active, a brighter and sunnier mood and generally feeling better.

Another way your energy level rises from being outdoors? You sleep better. Ever heard anyone say, “All that fresh air has made me tired?” Generally, that’s because when you’re outside, you’re doing some sort of exercising, which is proven to help you sleep better. That means you wake up more energetic, which has you exercising more, and sleeping even better…and so on and so forth.

A Happier You

When you feel better physically, you feel better emotionally. But happiness doesn’t stem just from physical benefits. According to the University of Michigan, getting out in the great outdoors is an antidepressant that doesn’t need a prescription. Chalk it up to the sounds, sights, smells and experience surrounding you—from the sounds of a babbling brook or chirping birds to the smell of grass to the sight of blooming flowers.

Another way the outdoors make you happy is by interacting with other people. It might be by participating in group walks or bird watching outings. Or it could be an intramural sports team, a volunteer group dedicated to cleaning up a particular area or a group of gardeners choosing to brighten up a public place with their green thumbs. Being involved with others forms relationships, which does wonders to reduce isolation, loneliness and boredom.

A Longer-Living You.

In 2016, Harvard University discovered that people who live surrounded by nature lived 12 percent longer than other individuals—no matter their race, age or socioeconomic status. The survey, which polled 100,000 women, showed that individuals surrounded by plants and trees dropped their chances of dying from respiratory illness by 34 percent, and decreased cancer death by 13 percent.

Experts suggest that it has to do with the fact that planting vegetation helps the environment in many ways, like reducing air pollution and cleaning water naturally. And sure, we’re all about science and trust the facts. However, looking at all the other benefits that being outdoors offers—physically, mentally and spiritually—we think there’s a little more going on than just “plants help the environment.”

No matter how old or young you are, the results are in—being outdoors is “naturally” good for you from improving your mood to getting your blood pumping and more. And best of all? It’s absolutely free—no gym membership required. So strap on your walking shoes and get ready to walk your way to a healthier, happier and better you. (Just remember to wear sunscreen!)

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