Here in Douglas County, and indeed across all of Colorado, we're so lucky to enjoy truly unparalleled natural resources. It might seem like common sense that being in nature improves our mood and reduces stress, but did you know that study after study has demonstrated that engaging with the outdoors seriously improves older adults’ physical and mental health?
In one study, older adults who had spent 120 minutes in nature over the previous week were significantly more likely to report feelings of good health and well-being than those who had no nature exposure. Another found that one hour in a natural environment improved folks’ attention span and memory by 20 percent, and more time resulted in even greater gains in both memory and creativity, and that regular exposure to green and blue spaces (like parks and ponds) significantly reduced old adults’ levels of salivary cortisol — a physiological marker of stress. A third found that exposure to greenspace reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and premature death. Those are some serious health benefits!
The same studies provide us with some good general tips on how to get the most out of the time we spend outside. They recommend trying, as much as you can, to experience nature without the pressure of a set amount of time or other preconceived goals. They suggest that you keep your phone use to a minimum and focus on attending to the feedback from each of your senses when you’re immersed in a green or blue space. These suggestions can help you to really be present in the moment, which can lessen anxiety and improve your overall mental health.
In addition to these general guidelines, there are some best practices to consider when planning to spend time outside at Colorado’s high elevation. Remember to always stay hydrated and be aware that both alcohol and caffeine can exacerbate dehydration. Wear and reapply plenty of sunscreen, and most of all, take things slow! Pace yourself and be on the look out shortness of breath, nausea, or headache – these are signs that you need to rest. If these symptoms persist, you’ll want to seek medical attention.
There are plenty of ways to safely enjoy the outdoors. Gardening is one great way to interact with nature and get some exercise at the same time – it’s an excellent activity for older adults to maintain strength and make light aerobic activity part of their daily lives. If you’ve already got a green thumb, consider leveling up by creating a natural area with native species that can become a route for butterfly and bird migrations. Speaking of birds, birdwatching is another fantastic way to get outside and connect with nature. Here in Douglas County, guided birdwatching walks are offered at Roxborough State Park several times per month. Finally, consider going out for a walk. The hiking opportunities here are truly endless – there’s something for everyone, no matter if it’s your first time out or you have decades of trail experience. As a starting place, consider Larkspur’s own Sandstone Ranch Open Space. With over 12 miles of trail, it’s one of the premier outdoors spaces in all the county.
No matter the activity, simply being outside and enjoying nature can provide a variety of benefits for your energy, creativity, and mental and physical well-being. If you or someone you know could use some more recommendations on how to stay active and engaged with nature or needs a hand with any other part of the aging process, please do reach out to us. We’d love to hear from you – it’s what we’re here for.
Blogs are written by ARDC staff members