During the pandemic, many folks rediscovered the great outdoors because it was the safest place to socialize, exercise, and ... let's be honest, get some alone time away from the people you were stuck at home with!
As excited as we all are to get back to eating in restaurants and gathering in grandma's living room, I hope seniors keep up with the outdoorsy habits and interests they developed over the past year. Pandemic or not, here are 4 reasons why spending time outside is always a healthy choice, especially for retirees who want to stay active and add some variety to their daily routines.
1. Catch some healthy rays.
In addition to those supplements your doctor recommends, good old sunshine is another excellent source of Vitamin D. Its benefits include healthier bones, lower instances of some cancers, lower blood pressure, reduced risk of diabetes, and a stronger immune system. Sunlight also boosts the body's production of serotonin, which improves your mood and can help you remain calmer and more focused.
Of course, extended sun exposure can be too much of a good thing, so make sure to apply sunscreen, even if it's a bit overcast, whenever you head outside.
2. Relax your mind.
Speaking of mood, Harvard Medical College says getting outside can have significant benefits to your overall mental health. A 2015 study found that after a 90-minute nature walk, people had lower levels of activity in the area of the brain associated with repetitive negative thinking. It seems the sights and sounds of nature have a knack for relaxing us, which lowers our blood pressure and reduces the "fight-or-flight" response that can ramp up our stress levels.
And yes, stress is something that retirees need to take seriously. The human brain is designed to solve problems. Take away one of the brain's big projects -- work -- and it will start whittling away at your money worries, your health concerns, feelings of insecurity and uselessness, and headlines you saw on the news before you went to bed. Stepping outside of your household bubble can help you unplug from those concerns and give your mind a bit of a reset. After a stroll through the park or a few miles on your bike, the things you don't really need to worry about tend to disappear. And you'll return to the problems you do need to solve with a cooler head.
3. Shake up your schedule.
You already know that you need to exercise to maintain your physical and mental health. But building up an outdoor exercise regimen can also help seniors tackle one of the biggest challenges of retirement: finding things to do. In addition to getting your blood pumping, a nice long walk or a round of golf takes time. Commit that time regularly, and your retirement calendar will start to look a whole lot less empty.
Another benefit of outdoor exercise versus indoor exercise is that when you take a jog, hop on your bike, or meet up with friends at a tennis court, you never know where the rest of the day might take you. An afternoon tee time might lead to lunch or dinner. You might take an unexpected turn on your usual bike path and find a new favorite view or a fun place to grab coffee. Your favorite winter trail could be an entirely new experience in summer, and vice-versa.
4. Deepen your most important relationships.
It’s going to be so nice to get back to the comforts and rhythms of indoor dining. Getting dressed up. Enjoying good food you didn’t have to cook or serve that isn’t in your weekly meal rotation. Looking around a fancy table at your friends and family … who all have their faces buried in their cell phones.
I’m kidding. Kind of.
Hopefully, post pandemic, we’re all going to be a little more attentive to the people right in front of us. But after a year when so much of our socializing was defined by Zoom, FaceTime, “likes” and friend requests, I do worry some folks might be more attached to their devices than ever before. When you’re sitting down inside and there’s a lull in the conversation or you’re waiting for dessert and coffee, that beep in your pocket or those sports highlights on TV are just too tempting.
It’s a lot harder to get sucked into the latest social media swirl or an after-hours work email if you and someone you love are pedaling down the lakefront, kayaking down a river, or renewing your friendly tennis rivalry.
Much like spending time outside can clear your head, the outdoors can also clear the air of all the distractions that can keep us from making the most of quality time with our loved ones. The further you journey into retirement, the more important those people and the things you do together are going to be.
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