6 Ways Urban Green Spaces Support Exercise in Older Adults
By Beth Rush
City and community planning involves more than how many structures you can fit per square mile. People need a habitat in which they can thrive. Increasing the number of urban green spaces benefits the planet by combating climate change and supports exercise among residents of all ages.
Public spaces that everyone can access are crucial in building a sense of community. They also provide a needed resource for those living in apartments to meet their daily movement requirements. Here are six ways urban green spaces support exercise in older adults.
Urban Green Space Benefits — Why Every Neighborhood Needs More Green
As cities and communities decide how to use available property, they should prioritize urban green spaces for the multiple benefits to people, the planet — and even commerce.
China provides an excellent example of how urban green spaces facilitate human activity. Yichang aims to become a city of bicycles, with dedicated bike lanes and parking to make it safer for people to commute this way, meeting their daily exercise needs while keeping pollution levels in check. Extra-wide walkways also encourage foot traffic, delighting store owners along the route with window shoppers ready to make impulse purchases.
Urban green space helps folks of all ages get moving. It’s also a crucial ally in the fight against climate change, providing the following:
- Safe commuting space: Many people who would walk or bike hesitate to do so if the only option is sharing tight roads with passing trucks. Reducing reliance on gas-powered vehicles cuts emissions.
- Clearing the air: Plants give off fresh oxygen after scrubbing the air of carbon dioxide and other toxins. The more there are in an urban area, the cleaner the air.
- Improving the aesthetics: Rows of brownstones against a gray sky create a depressing city center. Growing things beautify the space, inviting residents to come outdoors, mingle with their neighbors, and engage in community activities.
6 Exercise-Supporting Urban Green Space Benefits for Older Adults
Studies confirm that those who live closer to green spaces engage in more physical activity regardless of age. However, city planners should also consider the benefits for older adults in particular — here’s why.
1. Decrease the Medical Costs Associated With Aging
Medical care is one of the biggest expenses for older adults, and Medicare doesn’t cover everything. A single injury or illness can devastate someone on a fixed income.
Urban green spaces provide ample areas for older adults to walk, which is one of the best exercises for this age group. Those who do so are 23% less likely to fall, which can lead to debilitating injuries like broken hips. Access to such areas can help individuals maintain their independence, reducing the demand for assistance in daily living tasks like bathing and cooking.
Furthermore, those with active lifestyles are less likely to develop chronic issues like heart disease and diabetes, which can drive up healthcare costs. Spending time outdoors improves immunity and even boosts cognitive function, possibly staving off dementia.
2. Provide a Free Resource for Those on Fixed Incomes
It’s easy to tell people to join a gym, but those on fixed incomes may lack the wiggle room in their budget to do so. Urban green spaces benefit older adults and people with limited income with a free resource where they can get their exercise — and more.
For example, multiple studies show that spending time outdoors reduces stress and eases anxiety and depression symptoms. It keeps stress hormones like cortisol in check, helping people feel balanced. Without urban green spaces, people who dwell in apartments have nowhere to simply enjoy the sunlight on their skin.
3. Allow Space to Commute Via Walking or Cycling
Does it surprise you to learn that older adults comprise the fastest-growing employment sector? Many continue to work to keep pace with inflation. Even those who have retired still must travel to shop and attend appointments.
Urban green spaces benefit these older adults by providing safe corridors for them to commute. Driving a mere mile can take 30 minutes or more in densely populated areas like New York City and Los Angeles. However, you could slash travel time in half by cutting through a park, even if traveling by foot.
4. Encourage a Social Space for Dancing and Gathering
You don’t outgrow the magic of dancing under the stars as you age, but how can you throw a “senior” prom without a suitable space? Urban green spaces provide areas for community celebrations that encourage physical activity and social interaction.
Furthermore, loneliness is a modern epidemic, and it affects older adults more as their loved ones and friends pass away. Urban green spaces encourage making new connections, perhaps meeting over dog walking and solidifying your bond over the park chess table.
5. Improve Community Involvement
Older adults have much to offer, but they need an outlet. Urban green spaces encourage them to connect with others and brainstorm ways to improve. People who maintain their physical health through exercising in such spaces have more energy for volunteering and getting involved in local projects that elevate the entire neighborhood.
They may even enhance the park without demanding tax dollars. Many community playground structures arise from the hard work of volunteers, working with the approval of city planners, to improve urban green spaces. They can also design recreational and educational programs that invite others in the neighborhood to use the resource.
6. Facilitate Multigenerational Education
Once upon a time, humans lived in closer, communal groups. Children interacted with people of all ages, and elders were valuable sources of wisdom and teaching. They still can be — but they need an open, public space where parents can keep a watchful eye.
Older adults practicing yoga in the park may inspire young people to take up the practice, encouraging mindfulness. Parks come alive for youth even more when a volunteer ranger shares interesting facts about the local flora and fauna. Urban green spaces can provide more than a workout — they can become adjuncts to the classroom, places to pass on learning beyond the school day.
Urban Green Space Benefits Older Adults
Urban green space benefits folks of all ages. Older adults, in particular, reap perks from such areas as free spaces to work out, explore nature, socialize with others, and find ways to benefit their communities. They decrease the health risks associated with aging and play an integral role in redesigning society around people, not stone and steel.
About the Author: Beth Rush is the green wellness editor at Body+Mind. She has more than five years of experience writing and editing articles covering topics like sustainable transit and the importance of green spaces in urban planning. You can find Beth on Twitter @bodymindmag. Subscribe to Body+Mind for more posts by Beth!