Green Aging is living in harmony with nature. It is being present in nature throughout every season for two or more hours a week. Aging With Freedom coined this phrase to sum up both empirical and practical lessons about the benefits of living plants, flowing water, wild animals and the natural world.
Why is Green Aging Important?
Nature impacts our wellbeing. “What you are seeing, hearing, experiencing at any moment is changing not only your mood, but how your nervous, endocrine, and immune systems are working.” – University of Minnesota
Seasonal changes are a perfect time to reflect on our connections with nature. Seasons connect us with the rhythm of the natural world. The first greens of summer arrive. The last colors of fall slip away.
Yet, we too easily focus on the next season – Winter preparations for the upcoming holidays or Spring cleaning before upcoming scheduled Summer trips. Sometimes our personal agenda misses the bigger picture.
Studies on healthy aging tell us to spend time in nature — be present in the outdoors, green plants, blue water, and the weather. Connect with the living world. Being present in nature means celebrating the now! Don’t wait for the next season or next year.
When participants viewed nature scenes, the parts of the brain associated with empathy and love lit up, but when they viewed urban scenes, the parts of the brain associated with fear and anxiety were activated. It appears as though nature inspires feelings that connect us to each other and our environment.University of Minnesota
Two or more hours a week
The amount of time spent in nature matters! A recent study concluded to reap the health benefits of nature, the optimal amount of time to spend in green spaces (i.e., urban parks, the woods or beaches) is two hours per week. That’s an average of approximately 17 minutes a day.
Literature, experience, and science all say, time in nature improves well-being
“Therapeutic landscapes and wellbeing in later life: Impacts of blue and green spaces for older adults” is a study published in both Health & Place Journal and Science Daily.
Jessica Finlay with the University of Minnesota led the research team and looked at the influence contact with nature has on our sense of well-being in later life. Researchers concluded a connection with nature is a health resource for older adults and healthy aging. Being in nature promotes feelings of renewal, restoration, and spiritual connectedness. It can also enhance a sense of purpose and reduce loneliness.
Natural environments enable older adults to uphold daily structure in retirement and provide opportunities for diverse activities outside the home. This is important to quality of later life by decreasing boredom, isolation, and loneliness; as well as boosting one’s sense of purpose and accomplishment.Science Daily
Green Aging Enhances Focus and Social Connections
Additional studies also support the importance of nature in our daily well-being.
Exercising in the presence of nature was shown to enhance positive short and long-term health outcomes — including social bonds. (What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis).
And being outdoors, even for a relatively short period, was shown to enhance your focus. (A Comparison of Leisure Time Spent in a Garden with Leisure Time Spent Indoors: On Measures of Restoration in Residents in Geriatric Care)
While running out in God’s nature, I would find a sense of calm and wellbeing.Sister Madonna Buder, ‘The Iron Nun’
Green Aging with Blue Space
Green spaces create a greater sense of wellbeing. But don’t forget blue spaces. When you add blue spaces with flowing water, like lakes, rivers or even fountains, the positive green effects can be amplified.
“The Blue Health Project, led by a team at the University of Exeter, is investigating the impact of rivers, lakes, oceans, and urban water features such as fountains and canals on physical and psychological health. They’ve found that when individuals attempt to reduce distress they prefer to look at photos of nature — and in particular, photos containing as many water features as possible.The Telegraph
So that lake cabin you’ve not really used for years? Perhaps you should make the time to really enjoy it! Find your own blue space to enhance your green aging.
Living with Nature instills meaning and purpose
A recent Washington Post article reported just having greenery in your neighborhood enhances your health, “Scientists have discovered that living near trees is good for your health”
Being in nature also bestows a sense of connectedness, meaning, and purpose. …In a world bogged down by social pressures, standards of conduct, and the demands of others, nature gives people a chance to appreciate a grander sense that the world is alive, fascinating and meaningful. This universal appeal crosses all cultures and time periods.”CRC Health
The natural world restores our senses of proportion and purpose.
The Little Details in Green Aging
Jessica Finlay urges us to remember this need for green aging in both large scale planning and in individual action-steps focus. She believes, “little details matter”, like trees, benches, curbs, and crosswalks in our community planning. (What helps Minnesota seniors age in place? U researcher has some clues) The best architecture makes connections between the outdoors and indoors, maybe even bringing some of the natural world inside.
Tips for Living With Nature
And Finlay suggests the following action steps to enhance our everyday access to living with nature: (Everyday access to nature improves quality of life in older adults)
1. Focus on your overall well-being. Mental and social health are just as important as physical health when aging.
Clinical psychologist Ryan Howes, Ph.D, suggests the following 15 ways to help you flourish and bolster your well-being.
- Accept your emotions. Don’t deny, bury, project, rationalize, medicate or sweep your emotions under the rug of sadness, anger, and fear.
- Take daily risks to keep growing. A life without certain risks can keep you in a rut.
- Live in the present.
- Determine and live your personal values.
- Identify and use your individual strengths.
- Monitor your thoughts and replace negative ones with positive.
- Practice gratitude.
- Find a passion. [or perhaps: Cultivate your passion]
- Do what makes you happy at the start of your day. Everyday.
- Get rid of the “rotten eggs” in your life.
- Surround yourself with positive scents and sounds.
- Get inspired.
- Meditate daily.
2. Get out the door. Often. Regularly. At least two hours a week. Even if it’s just around the block and back. Another good reason to get a dog. They provide a daily ‘excuse’ to bet outdoors!
The results of the study (“Positive Effects of Nature on Cognitive Performance Across Multiple Experiments: Test Order but Not Affect Modulates the Cognitive Effects“) help clarify some of the ways natural environments benefit the brain and mind. Firstly, all studies demonstrated significantly improved cognition in nature as compared to urban environments, as determined by the BDS test. Furthermore, by examining how first and secondary testing differed in environments, it was shown that urban environments may actually affect cognitive decline, in much the same way nature affects improved cognition. Finally, the metastudy found that, while natural environments tended to improve affect (mood), this didn’t account for the increase in performance, which means that nature interacts with the brain through various, independent pathways, some emotional, others cognitive.Scientists find evidence that spending time in nature increases cognitive performance
3. Prioritize everyday contact with nature. Make it a habit. Whether it’s sitting in a park, climbing a mountain, listening to a water fountain, or looking at potted plants on a windowsill. (Studies have shown that even a simple plant in a room can have a significant impact on stress and anxiety.) The natural world connects us with something larger than self.
So enjoy nature and take time, daily, to be present in nature and the natural world. It is a source of High Health as we age!
Let nature blow the fog out of your soul
Our old friend, sassy Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables reminds us of our common experience with the clarifying force of nature. Her experiences are parables for all ages.
It was November–the month of crimson sunsets, parting birds, deep, sad hymns of the sea, passionate wind-songs in the pines. Anne roamed through the pineland alleys in the park and, as she said, let that great sweeping wind blow the fogs out of her soul.L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
Let’s all become a part of green aging by getting out into nature! Celebrate it. Be present. And blow the fog out of your soul!
Pilot Study of Changes in Urinary Stress Hormone Levels after a Forest Walk. The current findings, however preliminary, suggest that forest walking may play a role in the alleviation of oxidative stress in the body. (9/15/2018)