How Nature Nurtures
As we age, the path to happiness may be exactly that: a path. Perhaps one in a park or garden, with some sunshine added in for good measure.
In recent years, scientific research has confirmed what we know intuitively: nature lifts our spirits. For seniors, it offers a simple, effective way to improve their outlook on life.
If that sounds like an invitation to storm the wilderness with a backpack and compass, you don't have to go that far—your local park or a neighborhood garden will do nicely. It turns out that even a modest amount of contact with nature goes a long way, making it particularly accessible for seniors. For example, natural scents or sounds can reduce stress and improve mood. Studies have shown that exposure to birds singing or the smell of flowers has a measurable, positive impact on wellbeing.
Dr. Jason Strauss, director of geriatric psychiatry at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance, notes that interacting with nature is one of the best self-improvement tools for seniors. "Focus on places you find the most pleasing," he advises. "The goal is to get away from stimulating settings and experience a natural environment."
Not surprisingly, nature's psychological benefits have given rise to a new healthcare discipline. "Ecotherapy" is tapping into the growing body of scientific knowledge about our kinship with the world around us. Increasingly, seniors are participating in nature-based activities like horticultural therapy, joining groups of their peers to work with plants or in gardens as a way to combat social isolation.
The trend, says Noah Marco, MD, the Jewish Home's chief medical officer, offers a refreshingly affordable, low-tech way to stay healthy. "In our modern age, we have a tendency to think that effective remedies will probably be complex and costly," he observes. "Nature is precisely the opposite: It offers a simple, free, and effective way to improve one's outlook on life."
Nature plays an important role at the Jewish Home's multiple campuses, where seniors stroll along walking paths and gardens. The Home's beautifully landscaped grounds encourage them to socialize and to enjoy the lovely California sunshine.
Of course, long before there was hard data on the value of communing with the natural world, scientists were already endorsing it as a way for people to stay healthy, happy, and feeling young. "Look deep into nature," Albert Einstein counseled, "and you will understand everything better."