Every Season’s Greetings: The Importance of “Green” Spaces for the Older Adult

Guest Post Author:  K.A. Wisniewski | http://projectorperiod.com/

We are now officially into the winter season.  Some parts of the country face cold winds and heavy snow, and, while some make the time to enjoy white winters, others are already looking forward to an early spring. But no matter the climate or season and no matter what our plans may be, there’s always something to appreciate and enjoy about nature.

Although the natural world does present challenges and obstacles to our day-to-day lives and especially to older adults, nature-based recreation plays a vital role in improving the elderly’s well being.  By interacting with green spaces on a daily basis, older adults can garner physical and mental health benefits, pleasure, and active social contacts essential for maintaining a dynamic and fulfilling lifestyle.

image 1 longwood-gardens-christmas

A “green space” is any type of natural setting.  Found in urban, suburban, and rural contexts, it includes parks, gardens, and grasslands and woodlands.  They can be natural or man-made. And they can include not only “official” plots maintained by some organization or institution, but also in your local neighborhoods or even a small, designated space at home.  (Even providing a small shelf for herbs or an enclave set aside at home for plants can offer enjoyment and responsibility.)

image 2 _ herbs on a shelf

While the possibilities for engaging in and with green spaces are virtually endless, walking and exercise is probably the first activity that comes to most people’s minds. Since the majority of the older adult population lives in cities, accessibility to urban green spaces, especially parks, plays a major role in affecting the elderly’s nature-based recreation.  Promoting physical activities can reduce the odds of obesity, can strengthen the bones and muscles, and can have positive effects on the heart and lungs.

Although activities such as walking, hiking or biking can offer psychical and psychological benefits to our loved ones, it is easy to overlook the emotional ties between the elderly and nature and the ways in which a particular space offers comfort and grounding.  Our memories, cultural heritage, and sense of community are all tied to the land, and visiting our favorite spot reminds of days, seasons, and years passed.  The older adults in our lives can recount to us important moments to them: those outings with friends, cherished time with their spouses, and those times when they laughed, cried, or shared a meal. They can tell us what nearby buildings didn’t yet exist and what local businesses have come and gone; even the trees can trigger past memories.

image 3 couple hiking

As important as it is to reflect on “the good old days,” green spaces are great places to make new memories with family and with friends.  In addition to physical activities, these spaces offer a variety of sedentary activities for those unable or less inclined in participating in more strenuous events.  Chatting, picnicking, and table gaming is among the most popular.  With our often-hectic schedules, we can forget about the pleasures of enjoying nature—and each other’s company.  We don’t need to be actively doing something to have meaningful moments or quality time together.  To be “out of the house” and in a different setting is sometimes enough—in fact, it might be exactly what they—and we—need.

Remember, too, to allow your loved one, and yourself, to enjoy the place, the sun and shade, and its smells and sounds.  Besides its physical and emotional benefits, green spaces can provide a sense of religious spirituality and inspire creativity.  Alone time can be equally important for our loved ones; they may be inspired to write or paint or may simply wish to enjoy the quiet of the surroundings in reflection or prayer.  Although some caregivers may worry that their loved ones are alone too often or that they aren’t spending enough time with them, it is important to remember that this alone time is still a break from their normal routines and may offer something some freedom they desperately need.

image 4 state park picnic pavilion

Here are some tips to consider before heading out on the trails.

  1. Talk to the older adult in your life.

What are their likes, dislikes, and interests?  Talk to the care recipient first, and consider where they’d like to visit, where they feel an attachment, and what they might wish to do.  Cater the outing to their individual needs, securities, and hobbies.  Remember that each older adult will have his or her own expectations and preferences and that you will want to avoid settings that may be potentially hazardous, uncomfortable, embarrassing, or frightening.

  1. Plan ahead.

Whenever possible, do research on the location. You may wish to visit the site beforehand, but a simple online search will often suffice.  Consider safety, natural attributes, available facilities, and the necessary place-specific physical requirements.  Any websites offer a list of amenities and maps.  Some sites will offer special programs and events, so remember to check the site’s calendar.

  1. Plan the day’s agenda.

Once you’ve spoken with the older adult in your life and selected a location and date, it’s always good to try to plan the day out appropriately.  Consider parking, food and water, and games or other amenities that you may wish to bring with you.  This might be a good time to pull out the old horseshoe set, croquet kit, or Frisbee collecting dust in your attic or shed.  And remember to set aside time for breaks.

  1. Be flexible in your plans.

Remember that you’re dealing with Mother Nature and the weather and conditions might not be optimal on your scheduled day.  You may wish to bring a sweater, poncho, or umbrella, or, even better, have a few alternative plans ready to go, in case the weather doesn’t cooperate.  Remember that these planned outings bring excitement and that canceling these plans may cause some disappointment.  Instead of abandoning plans altogether for a date to be decided later, you can offer to go out to lunch, visit a nearby museum, or just stay in together.

image 5 stream

Every green space is unique, so there are plenty of opportunities to visit multiple local sites. Do your homework.  A greenery’s offerings can include the following:

  • Hiking and biking trails
  • Wheel-chair accessible sidewalks and pavements
  • Picnic areas, pavilions, awnings, and grilling areas
  • Fishing, canoeing, wading, and tubing
  • Unique flora, fauna, and wildlife
  • Attractive architecture and public art
  • Water features, such as lakes, ponds, streams, and fountains
  • Museums, greenhouses, and observatories
  • Historical landmarks and distinctive topographical features
  • Cafés and restaurants

If the first visit is successful, maybe this can become a seasonal or monthly tradition (if it isn’t already).  Try to not get discouraged if the first trip doesn’t go according to plan.  There are other sites and days to try again.

Green spaces can promote physical activity, can reduce stress, can inspire creative aspirations, and build and nurture relationships.  Although there is much to consider in planning an outing, green spaces are a great idea visit with or create for the older adult in our lives, regardless of one’s interests, socioeconomic status, health conditions, household sizes, and geographic locations.  I can think of no better way to enjoy time with the older adult in our lives than taking a short trip outdoors.

About the Author:

wisniewski photo

K. A. Wisniewski teaches English at the University of Maryland College Park.  His work can be found at http://projectorperiod.com/.  He lives in Baltimore with his wife Molly, Founder and Editor of The Upside to Aging.


4 thoughts on “Every Season’s Greetings: The Importance of “Green” Spaces for the Older Adult

  1. Thank you for this blog. I often take for granted the green space around me and don’t get out often enough. When i do get out is is so refreshing and I feel so much better after. Your comments about bringing peace and calm is so on point. We can all use a calming time in our day.


    1. Thank you, Colleen, for your kind words. I’m so happy to hear that this piece resonated with you. I think the author does an amazing job of reminding us of the importance of nature and I so appreciate your thoughts!


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