Green environments and blue spaces with running or still water are especially beneficial for healthy ageing in older adults, a new study has found. Natural environments are known to promote physical, mental, and spiritual healing. The study found that by incorporating smaller features, such as a koi pond or a bench with a view of flowers, public health and urban development strategies can optimise nature as a health resource for older adults.
They also provided places for multi-generational social interactions and engagement, including planned activities with friends and families, and impromptu gatherings with neighbours. The researchers interviewed adults aged 65 to 86 years who lived in Vancouver. All study participants were considered low-income and came from eight different self-identified racial and ethnic groups. “We zoomed in to everyday life for seniors between the ages of 65 and 86,” said Jessica Finlay, a former research assistant on the project and lead author of the study, who is now a doctoral candidate in geography and gerontology at the University of Minnesota.
“We discovered how a relatively mundane experience, such as hearing the sound of water or a bee buzzing among flowers, can have a tremendous impact on overall health,” Finlay said. “Accessibility to everyday green and blue spaces encourages seniors to simply get out the door. This in turn motivates them to be active physically, spiritually and socially, which can offset chronic illness, disability and isolation,” she said.
While younger generations may use green and blue spaces more to escape and rejuvenate from their busy work life, our participants used nature to be active physically, spiritually, and socially in later life, the researchers said. Many overcame barriers due to chronic illness, disability, and progressing old age to connect regularly with green and blue spaces, they said.
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, researchers said. Blue space in particular provides opportunities for non-weight bearing physical activity and physiotherapy (eg wading, water walking, swimming). Waterfront areas are comforting sites for spiritual connectedness with deceased loved ones, and relaxing places to escape the strains of later life, the researchers said.