Enjoying the Outdoors This Summer

Enjoying the Outdoors This Summer

Senior couple strolling down a garden path together.  A metaphore for life's journey.

Senior couple strolling down a garden path together. A metaphore for life’s journey.

We all know exercise is good for us. But did you know that not all exercise is created equal? When it comes to health and well-being, outside exercise may be the way to go – especially for seniors.

A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of San Diego found that men and women age 66 and older exercised longer and more often than people of the same age group who exercised indoors. The study participants who exercised outside (most frequently by walking) completed an average of 30 more minutes of exercise each week than those who walked indoors. Researchers theorize that exercising outside improves moods, probably due to the exposure to direct sunlight.

A few other smaller studies have found that people who exercise outdoors have lower blood levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, than people who exercise indoors. In addition, vitamin D from sunlight is known to improve cognitive function.

Now that the warm weather is upon us, it is time to get outside and enjoy some fresh air and sunshine. Even people with mobility problems can gain the benefits of outdoor activities. There are many choices of activities that range from free to low cost.

The main requirements are sun protection, good footwear, plenty of water and a positive attitude. Be sure to check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Community events: Summer is a great time to attend outdoor community concerts and other events. Check out events centered on the holidays, including Independence Day and Labor Day. You may find a parade, a fireworks display or a band concert happening right in your neighborhood. Some community theaters have a special series of outdoor summer plays. Bands and orchestras often schedule outdoor summer concerts as well.

Sports: A major league ball game may seem like to much to handle, but a minor league baseball game can be just as exciting, if not more so. Other sports events can include summer children’s leagues in baseball, soccer or swimming. These events are fun to watch, and many are free.

Tourism. When was the last time you toured your city like a tourist? Depending on your location, you could take a bus or trolley tour of the sites or even a boat excursion. Many of these travel companies offer low-cost rates for seniors. Check out your local historical society for architectural tours or other ways to focus on the history of your town.

Swimming. Swimming is a great low-impact way to exercise. See if your outdoor community pool has special adult swim hours and ask about their senior rates. There’s nothing like an early morning swim to start your day off right. You might even be interested in summer water aerobics classes designed for seniors.
Gardening. Don’t let your love of gardening be a thing of the past. You can lend your green thumb to community gardens. Many communities have vegetable gardens maintained by volunteers. The bounty of these gardens is then distributed to shelters and soup kitchens to help feed the hungry.

Birdwatching. Summer is the best time to watch our feathered friends. Set up some feeders or birdbaths where you can enjoy them and/or check the following websites for birdwatching clubs in your area: https://aba.org/resources/birdclubs.html and https://www.audubon.org/birding

Cycling. Riding a bicycle is a good exercise for your joints and knees, and it helps you maintain your sense of balance. Three-wheeled bikes , which offer back support, are also an option. Look for groups in your area that cater to seniors. Start slow and, as you build up your confidence and your stamina, you will be amazed at what you can do.

Fishing. Whether it is from the deck of a boat or from the shore or a pier, fishing is a fun and relaxing summer activity for people of all ages and motilities. Plus, you may get some good eating when you are done.

Walking. Walking is the best exercise there is. Now that the weather is nice, look for new destinations for your daily walk. You can drive to parks you haven’t explored to try out some new paths and trails. Many nature centers and botanical gardens offer interesting and relaxing walking options and are open early to help you beat the heat. Other options are to take a walking tour of your city or town. Perhaps you could focus on outdoor art sculptures or architecture as you go. Check with your local art museum for ideas, and then take along a camera for further inspiration.

Spending time in nature, whether as a group activity or on your own, can have many benefits to your mood and to your overall sense of well-being. Even if your preferred way to be outdoors is reading a good book under the shade of a tree, you will gain some benefits.

According to University of Rochester psychology professor Richard Ryan who led a research study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, a simple 20-minute walk outdoors can give as much of a mental boost as a caffeinated beverage.

The natural world helps people feel more alive, Ryan asserts in his summary of his study of 537 student volunteers. “Nature is fuel for the soul.”

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