Benefits of Outdoor Exercise for Seniors

By Stacy McBee

COVID may have curtailed your plans to join a gym or visit your local recreation center, but it need not keep you from your exercise goals. Just move your body al fresco. Walking around the neighborhood, gardening in your own backyard, or a morning of tai chi in the park with friends are all great options to keep your blood circulating and your muscles active. And the benefits of outdoor exercise don’t stop there.

The Benefits of Year-Round Exercise

In Arizona, we’re lucky to have a climate that allows for outdoor exercise, even in the winter. Having a consistent exercise routine allows you to maintain a base level of physical fitness. Your chosen exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous in nature to help you maintain a healthy body mass index, which helps ensure better balance and fosters improved cardiovascular health.

Get into Gardening

Yes, Gardening Counts as Exercise! According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gardening does indeed qualify as exercise, burning up to 300 calories in a 30 to 45-minute session. Tilling the soil, watering, and weeding are all ways to combat joint stiffness. Make sure you wear a hat and gloves and watch your sun exposure. Gardening first thing in the morning is a great option to get in your “green” workout. Novice gardeners will want to check local planting and watering guides to start their garden and decide what to plant: herbs, vegetables, flowers, or a combination. Pro tip: consider a kneeling pad or padded mat to make gardening more comfortable on those knees.

Boost Your Mental Health

Exercise is not only beneficial to your physical health, it’s also a proven way to boost your mental health. An evening walk around your neighborhood allows you to safely connect with neighbors. Driveway chats can be mentally stimulating and keep you connected to the community. Physical health is tied to mental health. Wave hello, chat for a bit, and lower your stress hormones in the process. You may even find you sleep better after a stroll.

Exercise Helps Avoid Injury and Disability

Balance-focused exercises like tai chi help improve your strength and body awareness, which could help you avoid falls in the future, preserving your independence. In addition, improved muscle strength and circulation from many outdoor exercises can help stave off cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and diabetes. It is safe for most seniors to engage in light to moderate exercise — even those with chronic illnesses. Talk to your doctor to learn which exercises may even improve chronic symptoms, such as pain and stiffness from arthritis.

Boost Your Immune System with the “Three Day Rule”

Regular exercise can also help you strengthen your immune function to better fight off infections and viruses. Some experts recommend that you should aim for 30 minutes of exercise at least three times per week for maximum benefits. Vary your exercise routine by rotating low-impact activities like walking, yoga, swimming, or water aerobics — and of course, gardening. Actually, the “three-day rule” is perfect since that’s the same amount of time it takes for those pesky weeds to grow in your garden. So grab your trowel and head outside. You and your flower beds will reap the benefits.

Stacy McBee has been gardening since she was three years old, thanks to her parents who owned a produce stand. She is now retired, but continues gardening on her apartment balcony and often trades plants and clippings with her neighbors.

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