Springtime in New York is a truly magical time of year; expect to see budding cherry blossoms and lush greenery while enjoying pleasantly warm temperatures interlaced with a refreshing cool breeze. 

Research suggests that time spent outdoors and around nature may benefit seniors in long-term residential senior care or rehabilitation. 

For over 150 years, Chapin Home for the Aging’s skilled nursing, memory care, and rehabilitation residents have enjoyed the sanctuary of our lush green grounds and peaceful outdoor nooks. 

The Great Outdoors: The Perfect Companion for Rehabilitation?

What are the Mental Health Benefits of Spending Time in Nature?

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 14% of seniors aged 60+ live with a mental health disorder. [1] And with physical ill health often having a marked effect on mental health, seniors in rehabilitation following illness, injury, or surgery may be even more at risk. 

For example, according to the American Stroke Association, [2] various studies have suggested that having a stroke increases a person’s risk of experiencing depression, anxiety, or both. Similarly, seniors in rehabilitation after a fall may be at a higher risk of depression or anxiety due to isolation and lack of confidence in usual activities. [3]

A 2021 article by the Mental Health Foundation [4] reported that connection to nature is associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety and increased feelings of happiness and contentment with life. 

Research into seniors specifically has also found great positive mental health benefits of nature connection. For example, one study by Wu et al. (2015) [5] found that high exposure to gardens and green space was associated with fewer mental disorders among older adults.

What are the Physical Health Benefits of Spending Time in Nature?

Alongside the tremendous mental health benefits, spending time outdoors within nature can promote physical activity. The benefits of physical activity for seniors are well documented and include improvements in mobility, strength, balance, fall rate, and cardiovascular health. 

One study even found that seniors who got out of the house every day at age 70 reported significantly less musculoskeletal pain, urinary incontinence, sleep problems, and activities of daily living (ADL) difficulties at age 77 (Jacobs et al., 2008). [6]

What if a Senior Can’t Exercise?

While some seniors in rehabilitation cannot safely participate in exercise (e.g., if they’re in the early stages of recovering from an injury or stroke), connecting with nature can still have great physical benefits. For example, getting outdoors is a great way to boost vitamin D levels, a micronutrient around 35% of Americans are considered deficient in. [7]

Insufficient vitamin D has been associated with increased cognitive decline, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. [8] Vitamin D’s ability to help the body absorb calcium can also play an essential role in strengthening nails, teeth, and bones to prevent conditions like osteoporosis, which are particularly common in aging seniors.

Are Outdoor Rehabilitation Sessions Worthwhile?

While there is still little scientific research into this area, a pilot study by Zhou et al. (2023) [9] offered promising insight into the potential benefits of outdoor rehabilitation sessions. 

This study discovered that when a group of seniors from a nursing home performed a physical therapy exercise session outdoors, they experienced lower blood pressure, less of an increase in heart rate pre-to-post session, and lower physiological fatigue and perception of exercise intensity than another group that performed the same session indoors. As a senior care community with an ever-evolving rehabilitation program, we will follow future research into this area with keen interest.

Outdoor Activity Ideas for Seniors

If you provide senior care for a loved one who spends most of their time indoors, it might be worth exploring fun activities to help them get out into nature. 

Here are just a few ideas:

    • Gardening
    • Walking
    • Farmers’ markets
    • Birdwatching
    • Fruit picking
    • Attending outdoor events (craft shows, concerts, etc.)
    • Fishing
    • BBQs
    • Playing or watching sports
    • Photography
    • Picnics

Many of these activities can be adapted to suit seniors in rehabilitation who might have reduced mobility or a health condition like Alzheimer’s, dementia, or Parkinson’s disease. Alternatively, your loved one might enjoy engaging in their hobbies outdoors (e.g., playing cards or chess, doing arts and crafts, or knitting).

How Chapin Home Promotes Nature Connection

With well over a century spent serving seniors with skilled nursing, memory care, and rehabilitation, we’ve seen firsthand the healing benefits of spending time in nature. Many of our residents enjoy getting involved in creative or physical outdoor activities. For example, gardening is one of our most popular activities. It has been shown to support strength, fitness, flexibility, cognitive ability, socialization, and overall health and quality of life in seniors (Wang & MacMillan, 2013). [10]

Residents at Chapin Home also have access to a range of serene outdoor areas, all carefully designed to promote mindfulness, calm, and relaxation. Seniors can read quietly or meditate to the soothing trickle of our fish pond’s gentle waterfall or socialize with friends and family on our well-maintained patios and park benches shrouded in greenery. 

Organize a Guided Tour

Enveloped in golden sunshine and sprinkled with budding flowers, spring is the perfect time of year to see our residential senior care community at its beautiful best. Contact us today to arrange a guided tour and discover why families in Queens have trusted our senior care for generations.


Cited Sources

[1] https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-of-older-adults)
[2] https://www.stroke.org/en/about-stroke/effects-of-stroke/emotional-effects-of-stroke/post-stroke-mood-disorders
[3] https://www.prestigecare.com/blog/effects-of-falling-on-seniors-mental-health/
[4] https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/2022-06/MHAW21-Nature-research-report.pdf
[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4577935/
[6] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18332184/
[7] https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15050-vitamin-d-vitamin-d-deficiency#:~:text=About%201%20billion%20people%20worldwide,States%20have%20vitamin%20D%20deficiency
[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4399494/
[10] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/271821459_The_Benefits_of_Gardening_for_Older_Adults_A_Systematic_Review_of_the_Literature 

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