Our time outside and with others has been limited over the past several months, but the benefit of getting fresh air and exposure to sunlight should not be forgotten, especially for older adults.
Whether it’s walking around the neighbourhood or relaxing on the patio, being outdoors has many advantages including increasing physical activity, lowering stress, and boosting energy levels. Spending time outside can also increase older adults’ vitamin D levels, a nutrient that is a crucial component in healthy aging.
Vitamin D Levels Support Overall Health
Vitamin D supports functions of the immune, digestive, circulatory and nervous systems, as well as reinforces calcium absorption for bone strength. However, despite its importance, an estimated 75-96% of Canadians are reported to have insufficient levels of the vitamin.
This can lead to serious health concerns, especially in older adults, and result in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and may increase the risk of depression. Furthermore, studies show that older adults may need to spend more time outside than others to receive the same amount of vitamin D.
5 Health Benefits of Getting Outdoors
“Everyone can benefit from spending time outside, but as we age it can be especially beneficial for our minds and our bodies,” says Dr. Lakelyn Hogan, Ph.D., gerontologist and caregiver advocate at Home Instead. “While older adults can raise vitamin D levels by adding nutrient rich foods to their diet, the advantages of getting fresh air and direct sunlight cannot be beat.”
To promote healthy living, Hogan shares five motivations for getting out of the house:
Supports mental well-being.
Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a form of depression and is experienced most often in the winter months. Symptoms of SAD can start to improve with the arrival of spring and more sunlight. In addition, spending time outdoors triggers vitamin D synthesis in the skin, which can provide a boost to your immune system and your overall mood.
Activities such as going to the park or taking a drive with the windows down can help reduce feelings of isolation, depression and stress. If mobility is a challenge, sitting near a window and opening curtains or blinds can be beneficial and allow sunlight in.
Increases physical activity.
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Canadians from the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, adults, including older adults, need nearly three hours of moderate aerobic physical activity a week. Planning activities such as a daily walk or bird watching can help contribute to better physical health.
Encourages new hobbies.
Warmer weather can lead to opportunities to explore new activities. Gardening is a fun hobby for older adults and a great way to spend time outdoors. Many vegetables, herbs and flowers can be cultivated in container gardens, which are convenient and easy to maintain. There are various adaptive tools available to help seniors who have arthritis or trouble with grip strength.
Improves bone and cardiovascular health.
Low levels of vitamin D can result in conditions such as osteoporosis, a disease that leads to bone weakening, which can increase the risk of falls. Older adults can increase time outdoors to help combat this and other diseases.
Enhances personal connections.
After many months spent indoors and being entertained by screens, spending time outside without the distraction of technology can be refreshing. Doing so with loved ones can help strengthen relationships and deepen bonds. Consider packing a picnic, taking a walk with a neighbour or starting a garden at home to cultivate with loved ones.
When a change of scenery is needed, sometimes the best cure is to enjoy the outdoors. Nurture the mind and body today by spending time in nature.
Get more healthy aging tips and resources for yourself or aging loved ones.