Nature improves well-being in older adults

My daughter knows firsthand the power of spending time in Nature. She now works as a Maryland State Park Ranger. And under a refreshing new governor, her state now funds a “Youth Park Ranger” program where urban children have an opportunity to get outside in Nature. I can’t think of a simpler, healthier program for both mind and body.

My daughter’s new Nature program is for children, but new research out of the University of Minnesota shows spending time in green and blue spaces (environments with running or still water) offers many health benefits to older people too.

As I often say, spending time in Nature every day improves your quality of life at any age. It measurably reduces stress. It also promotes physical, mental and spiritual healing. People can attain these health benefits by spending time outside to “get away from it all.”

Fortunately, you don’t have embark on a Lewis & Clark expedition to gain the powerful benefits…

The new study shows exposure to small natural elements–such as a koi pond or a bench among flowers–benefitted older adults. In fact, these small green and blue spaces promoted feelings of renewal, restoration, and spiritual connection in adults ages 65 to 86. They also provided places for social engagement and interaction, both planned and impromptu, with family and friends.

Researchers found access to blue and green spaces encouraged men and women to simply get out the door. It helped them maintain a structured daily schedule. Also, it helped offset the effects of chronic illness, disability and isolation. As a result, quality of life indicators showed decreases in boredom, isolation and loneliness. And improvements in their sense of accomplishment and purpose.

You can easily seek small connections to Nature. I always recommend spending time in and near water. I suppose it’s only natural for me, since I spent a lot of time as a child on the coast of northern New England. And still do today, in New England and Florida.

Research shows movement in water is one of the best, healthiest, safest, and most restorative forms of physical activity. Also, simply spending time on the water or along the waterfront can help you relax and find a spiritual connection. At the end of the fifth paragraph, in the very first chapter, of that great American novel Moby Dick, Herman Melville poetically writes, “Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded forever.”

I find many busy people think they don’t have time or opportunities to connect with Nature or meditate on a daily basis.

But even in the middle of your busy life, my co-author, Don McCown, and I show how you can find that “waterfront” for contemplation, spiritual connection and relaxation right in your own “mind’s eye,” anytime, every day.

In our book New World Mindfulness, we give you the practical guidelines for “everyday mindfulness” meditation. As we point out, you don’t have to go away to a Buddhist Monastery, or even to the seashore, to get the benefits of practicing meditation–but rather follow the long tradition of mindfulness in America.

Research shows practicing mindfulness as a young and middle-aged adult has many brain benefits. Imaging studies demonstrate that mindfulness meditation helps stave off dementia and can help you achieve health aging.

My advice for healthy aging is pretty simple:

  1. Focus on overall wellbeing–mental and social health, as well as physical fitness.
  2. Get out the door daily, even if it’s just around the block or to the corner park.
  3. Make contact with Nature an everyday priority. Sit in a park, listen to a water fountain, or sit among the plants in a garden.

Late summer and early fall is a special time of year, especially here along the New England coast. Now that the children are heading back to school, the beaches are perfect for those contemplative and restorative walks along the water.