Ever noticed how eager children are to be outside when the weather is pleasant? Or how much you enjoy spending time in the sun? Aging adults experience the same longings to be outdoors, but too often, concerns over falls, limited mobility, or mental or neurological deficits keep them huddled indoors.
And that’s unfortunate, because a study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) showed that aging adults who spent time outdoors had fewer symptoms of depression and were likely to report a higher quality of life than those who didn’t participate in outdoor activities. In addition, depression markers and quality of life scores improved in direct relation to the amount of time older adults spent outside. Clearly, seniors get as much as—if not more—enjoyment from their time in the sun as children and other adults.
The good news is that there are outdoor activities that seniors of any ability level can enjoy, and they don’t require any special skills or expensive equipment to get started. Here are four great ways to get seniors outside.
If you are fortunate enough to have access to a bit of land, you can start a simple flower or vegetable garden for seniors to tend. Choose hardy, easy to grow vegetables, such as peppers and zucchini, or fuss-free flowers, such as hostas and daylilies that don’t require constant care. Give seniors access to a wheeled garden scooter or kneeling bench if they have pain or mobility issues.
For wheelchair bound patients, or in situations where space is at a premium, plant a container garden on a sunny patio or deck. Many popular fruits and vegetables, such as berries and tomatoes, actually thrive in small spaces and are particularly rewarding for seniors.
2. Bird Watching
An outing to a wooded park for an afternoon of watching and listening to birds is a real treat for seniors, and if a trip to the park isn’t possible on a regular basis, you can place bird feeders and bird baths in strategic locations around a yard, patio, or deck to attract local birds. Make it more interesting by keeping a journal of the birds you see and the time of day they are most active. Encourage seniors who are able to help fill and clean the bird feeders and baths.
3. Lawn Games
Most lawn games are extremely simple and can be played even by seniors with minor physical limitations. Bocce, croquet, and horseshoes are old favorites, but you can even make lawn versions of some indoor favorites. A plastic bowling set is perfect for a level bit of lawn or pavement, or you can create your own life-sized tic-tac-toe game on the lawn using spray paint and colored balls to mark spots. Don’t overlook the simple pleasure of playing seniors’ favorite board games on a craft or picnic table outdoors, either.
4. Drawing, Painting, and Photography
Seniors don’t need to be particularly artistic to enjoy drawing and painting nature and landscapes. An easel, colored pencils or markers, or a few acrylic paints and a brush are all you need for a pleasant afternoon outdoors. Sketch pads and pencils are portable and easy to use on the lap if you want to take an outing to a park or beach where an easel would be impractical.
For seniors who lack the dexterity to manipulate pencils or paint, inexpensive digital cameras or even Polaroid instant cameras and film are easy to use to capture photos of flowers, birds, landscapes, pets, and people. Encourage them to collect their favorite photos in a scrapbook or on a cork board; these photo collages can be helpful for sensory stimulation and memory exercises for Alzheimer patients.
Getting seniors outside is a simple way to boost their mood, reduce anxiety and depression, and improve their overall quality of life. Even if space and resources are limited, you can still encourage older adults to participate in familiar activities outdoors and help them reap the benefits of nature and fresh air; these four suggestions are a great way to get started.