Alice Mitroi, Home Manager at The Royal Alfred Seafarers’ Society discusses the importance of outdoor spaces on residents’ mental health and wellbeing.
Spending quality time outdoors is crucial for people of all ages, but it holds particular significance for people in the later stages of life.
Being outdoors is a great way of encouraging older adults to engage in physical activity, such as walking, gardening, or light exercises. Regular movement is vitally important for older adults, as it helps improve strength, flexibility, balance, and overall mobility. Additionally, it can reduce the risk of chronic conditions like heart disease, obesity, and osteoporosis.
For me, one of the greatest benefits of exercise is the feeling it gives you. Exercise helps to release feel-good chemicals into our brains, such as serotonin which helps to boost our mood. Regular exercise is even prescribed to help treat mild cases of depression and improve individuals’ overall mental health and wellbeing.
As well as the noticeable health benefits, spending time outdoors can also create opportunities for socialisation and connection with others. Participating in group activities or simply enjoying outdoor spaces with friends and family can strengthen relationships and foster a sense of community, something that is very important in older adults.
Exposure to natural light and outdoor environments can also regulate the sleep-wake cycle and improve sleep quality in the elderly. Spending time outside during the day can help regulate circadian rhythms, leading to better sleep patterns and overall restful sleep. And as we all know, there’s nothing better than a good night sleep.
Another benefit of getting fresh air is improved cognitive stimulation. Nature walks, birdwatching, gardening, and other outdoor hobbies can help improve memory, attention span, and cognitive function.
Here at the Royal Alfred Seafarers’ Society’s nursing care home, Belvedere House, we are lucky to be situated within 14 acres of our own beautiful Surrey greenbelt countryside, so our staff and residents are able to get outdoors every day. Given the age and ill health of many of our residents, time outdoors is often in the form of an accompanied walk or wheelchair ride up to our Northfield Pond site where residents love to visit with family or care staff to bird watch or simply enjoy the beautiful flowers and surroundings.
Our estates team ensures that outdoor space is accessible for all at the Society and that residents who require a wheelchair can still reap the benefits of being outside in the fresh air and relax in our idyllic grounds. As a charity specialising in the care of former seafarers and their dependents, we have plenty of maritime memorabilia on site to make residents feel at home and prompt them to share life experiences. We also make the most of our grounds and hold events outdoors, including annual Open Days, exercise activities and games so our residents and can soak up the surroundings, and in pre-pandemic times, encouraged families and friends to join us too.
At Belvedere House, we’re advocates for outdoor activity because we know it provides a welcome boost for our mental and physical wellbeing. Care homes should take full advantage of the outdoor space around them to help support care plans for their residents, particularly the elderly.
Whilst not all care homes are lucky enough to be surrounded by as much outdoor space as we are, particularly those in cities, spots of natural beauty can be found up and down the UK, even if it’s a local park. In the hectic lives that we lead today, it is vital we take time to reflect and to prioritise our emotional and physical wellbeing, and what better way to so this than by embracing the power of mother nature.