Get Outdoors Over the Holidays to Enhance Well-Being

an older couple holding hands as they stroll through a park with green grass, trees, and a bench

When you were a kid, did you find joy in spending time outdoors? For me, as a kid, embracing activities in nature was as natural as breathing.

Today, my outdoor pursuits are more intentional but nonetheless enjoyable. And necessary. One positive outcome of the pandemic has been looking for ways to weave more outdoor activities and meetings into my schedule.

The same is true when it comes to the holidays. It’s too easy to become comfortable and sedentary; I tend to overeat and over-sit. As a result, I plan for and encourage al fresco time as part of holiday gatherings.

Benefits of spending time outdoors

The benefits and value of access to nature in improving quality of life are well-documented. Natural environments promote physical, mental, and spiritual healing and health, as well as opportunities for social, creative, and multigenerational engagement.

Health care professionals at the Mayo Clinic recognize that time outdoors in nature is a key factor in staying healthy. The concept is called biophilia. In fact, some health care professionals are writing “park prescriptions” to encourage patients to get outdoors. Read “Mayo Clinic Minute: Prescribing nature for mental, physical health“ for more information.

In a University of Minnesota study, researchers looked at the benefits of access to “green” and “blue” spaces for adults ages 65 to 86. Through this study, they discovered how even seemingly mundane experiences such as hearing bees buzzing or the sound of water lapping on a beach had positive impacts on overall health.

Additionally, exposure to the outdoors serves as a motivator to being more physically, socially, and spiritually active. These activities “can offset chronic illness, disability and isolation.” To learn more, read “Therapeutic landscapes and wellbeing in later life: Impacts of blue and green spaces for older adults.”

Other benefits to spending time outdoors include lower stress levels, decreased mortality rates, and improved mental health, including some possible easing of depression and anxiety. Read “Exposure to Greenness and Mortality in a Nationwide Prospective Cohort Study of Women“ to learn more.

Following are tips from the study for healthier aging:

  • Focus on your overall wellbeing: mental and social health are just as important as physical health when aging.
  • Get out the door regularly, even if it’s just to the end of the block and back.
  • Prioritize everyday contact with nature—whether it’s sitting in a park, listening to a water fountain, or looking at potted plants on a windowsill.

Lately, I’ve been setting goals for walking to build strength and endurance and get lots of fresh air. My job keeps me at a desk, so scheduling time outdoors offers an opportunity to clear my mind, get my heart pumping, and elevate my mood. I always feel better after I’ve been outside. My long-term goal is to walk the 6.4-mile Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop by Spring.

Rain is not an excuse for staying indoors

Let’s not allow “bad” weather to deter us from getting outdoors. This article from The Guardian encourages a multitude of benefits to taking a walk in the rain and wind (with caution, of course—this is where walking poles and proper raingear come in handy).

Here are some ideas beyond your immediate neighborhoods for getting outside over the holidays (and beyond). All these suggestions are FREE, accessible, and reachable by public transportation.  Many of the parks have public art and benches for breaks and taking in the surroundings, playgrounds, and memorable views. An added benefit: they work for all ages!

We are fortunate to have such an abundance of parks, beaches, gardens, walking and biking paths, and other accessible outdoor spaces throughout King County. Do you have a favorite park or beach? Here are some that I like!

Pocket parks

King County-area parks and gardens that invite walking, exploring, forest bathing, fresh air, and new discoveries:

Beaches and water access

Discover your own outdoor outlets

  • Lifelong Recreation for Adults 50+ (Seattle Parks and Recreation)
  • Sound Steps (Seattle Parks and Recreation walking program, including dog walks)
    A screenshot of the sounds steps program features people walking outside.

    Click on the image above to watch a short video about Sound Steps (Seattle Channel, 02:49).

  • Boating (rowing and sailing) classes are offered by a variety of local parks departments
  • Check your community or senior center for walking groups, field trips. For example, PNA Village has two walking groups—one walks throughout Phinneywood, the other walks throughout Ballard.
  • Washington Trails Association does a great job of providing maps, directions, trail distances, levels of difficulty, and any associated costs.
  • The Mountaineers offer courses, activities, and opportunities to build community in the great outdoors.

Keri PollackContributor Keri Pollock directs marketing and communications for Aging Wisdom, a care management and creative engagement practice based in Seattle. She is a member of the Age Friendly Coalition for Seattle and King County, serves on the Frye Art Museum Creative Aging Programs Advisory Committee and the Zinnia TV Advisory Board.

This article originally appeared in the December 2022 issue of AgeWise King County.