PA Highlights Physical, Mental Health Benefits of Connecting Older Adults to the Outdoors

Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn, Aging Secretary Jason Kavulich, and Acting Health Secretary Dr. Debra Bogen visited The Miller Center for Recreation and Wellness in Lewisburg, Union County, to highlight the importance of connecting older adults to the outdoors to promote the physical and mental health benefits they can gain through spending time in nature.

Research has proven that spending time in nature improves the mental and physical health of all people.

“We are very aware of the barriers and challenges many older adults and those with disabilities experience with having access to the outdoors,” Secretary Dunn said. “The Shapiro Administration is committed to providing healthy, safe, and high-quality opportunities for older adults to get outside and enjoy the incredible benefits our natural spaces provide. Thank you to our partners in the Departments of Aging and Health for this work to help older Pennsylvanians find meaningful connections to nature.

Pennsylvania has created a toolkit designed to help older adults find meaningful connections to the outdoors and nature. This toolkit details why exposure to nature is important, provides guides for bringing nature indoors, low-cost facility adaptations for care and convalescent homes, ways to overcome access barriers, and more.

“Social isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression and ultimately a decrease in health status. Older Adult Mental Health Awareness Day is an opportunity for us to highlight the importance of mental health to overall health and quality of life for older adults,” said Secretary Kavulich. “As an outdoor enthusiast who enjoys many of our incredible state parks, I encourage older Pennsylvanians to get out and enjoy the natural beauty of our Commonwealth, keeping in mind the benefits it will have on your well-being. I also urge any older adult who may need mental health supports or services to give their local Area Agency on Aging a call. A friendly voice is available to offer assistance for our seniors to live with the dignity and respect that they deserve.”

Regular activity in the physical environment can also prevent chronic disease and help people live longer. Outdoor recreation additionally often pairs with invaluable social interaction—a particularly important component of mental wellness following the era of social isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic — which tremendously impacts older adults.

“Regardless of your age, spending times outdoors in green space is an important component of health. Fresh air and safe exposure to sunshine support the immune system and helps our bodies produce Vitamin D, a vital hormone.” said Dr. Bogen. “Whether you are outdoors for physical activity, to listen to the sounds of nature, or observe the sky or greenery, studies demonstrate the positive impact of spending time in nature on overall health and well-being.”

Research also shows that having access to greenspace lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, stress, high blood pressure, and more. Simply exercising outdoors versus indoors has shown to improve mental well-being through feelings of revitalization, as well as increased energy and positive engagement with decreases in tension, confusion, anger, and depression.

“The Miller Center for Recreation and Wellness, powered by local health systems Evangelical Community Hospital and Geisinger, is a 501(c)(3) community-based resource that aims to improve the overall health of the region through education, empowerment, and partnerships. Sports, fitness, and childcare operations are managed by the Lewisburg YMCA,” said Ryan McNally, director of The Miller Center & Community Health Initiatives for Evangelical Community Hospital. “The facility has nearly 100,000 square feet of usable space for health and wellness programming, including a fully equipped fitness center, four hardcourts, turf field, café, and clinical spaces. Given that we are adjacent to the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail, The Miller Center is uniquely situated to provide ease-of-access to both outdoor and indoor recreation.”