Aging Adults Benefit From Exposure To Green and Blue Spaces

Jessica Finlay M.A. Department of Geography, Environment and Society University of Minnesota MNMedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Jessica Finlay M.A.
Department of Geography, Environment and Society
University of Minnesota MN

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Natural environments are known to promote physical, mental, and spiritual healing. People can attain health benefits by spending time outside, often in remote places to “get away from it all.” Now research conducted by a University of Minnesota graduate student with a team in Vancouver, B.C., shows that green and “blue” spaces (environments with running or still water) are especially beneficial for healthy aging in seniors. The research team interviewed older adults aged 65 – 86 years who lived in Vancouver, B.C., Canada. All study participants were low-income, represented 8 different self-identified racial and ethnic groups, and experienced a range of chronic conditions and health status.

Published in the journal Health and Place, the study – “Therapeutic landscapes and wellbeing in later life: Impacts of blue and green spaces for older adults” – demonstrates 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 optimize nature as a health resource for older adults. Throughout the research, green and blue spaces promoted feelings of renewal, restoration, and spiritual connectedness. They also provided places for multi-generational social interactions and engagement, including planned activities with friends and families, and impromptu gatherings with neighbors. 

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: We zoomed in to everyday life for seniors between the ages of 65 and 86. 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. 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.

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. Many overcame barriers due to chronic illness, disability, and progressing old age to connect regularly with green and blue spaces.

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. Blue space in particular provides opportunities for non-weight bearing physical activity and physiotherapy (e.g. 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.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: While our research may seem intuitive, it creates conversations on how to build communities that serve people across their entire lifetime. We don’t just need a playground for children, we also need sheltered benches for the grandparents to watch them. This research is more than anecdotal; it gives credence to some small but significant elements of everyday later life. Hopefully it will help urban planners and developers build communities that span a lifetime.

Citation:

Therapeutic landscapes and wellbeing in later life: Impacts of blue and green spaces for older adults

Health Place. 2015 Jul;34:97-106. doi: 10.1016/j.healthplace.2015.05.001. Epub 2015 May 18.

Finlay J1, Franke T2, McKay H3, Sims-Gould J4.

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Jessica Finlay M.A. (2015). Aging Adults Benefit From Exposure To Green and Blue Spaces 

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