Studies have repeatedly demonstrated how beneficial spending time in nature is for our overall health and well-being; being outdoors away from an urban environment lowers blood pressure and reduces stress, improves mood and sleep and boosts energy levels. But whole groups of people who are not able to walk on trails or rough terrain are missing out on the countless health benefits to be gained from spending time in a green space.
A group of change-makers in Wisconsin are working to make off-road wheelchairs available for physically challenged people to enjoy public land, reducing social isolation and improving quality of life. Access Ability Wisconsin is a non-profit organization that helps facilitate access to outdoor recreation for individuals with mobility challenges. With money raised through donations and grants, AAW has been able to provide off-road wheelchairs free to use for people with temporary or permanent disability. To date AAW has 14 all-terrain outdoor wheelchairs available in 7 host locations.
Older adults who struggle with mobility can benefit from spending time outdoors in nature. And it doesn’t have to necessitate an off-road wheelchair, although the AAW project is a great opportunity for many. Family, friends and caregivers can encourage loved-ones to spend even just a little time each day outside, watching birds at the feeder, working in a raised flower bed or taking a short spin around the neighborhood. For seniors with dementia, being outside can ease agitation and aggression. Being exposed to natural sunlight each day helps with restless sleep and has been demonstrated to improve appetite, activity level as well as improve awareness and memory and increase verbal expression.
Being outdoors also creates more opportunities for social interaction. Older adults with mobility problems often suffer from isolation if they are unable to get outdoors which has a negative effect on their emotional and mental well being. The days will be getting a little longer and warmer as we inch close to Spring; check the weather and start planning your next outdoor experience. It will do so much good!