Health Life

Time in nature improves health and purpose in life

  • April 18, 2023
  • 3 min read
Time in nature improves health and purpose in life

Research has often demonstrated the benefits of spending time in nature, finding psychological, emotional and physical benefits. To maximise the benefits for over 65s, researchers from Penn State; National Open University, Taiwan; and Lunghwa University of Science and Technology, Taiwan studied the attitudes, beliefs, and actions of a group of elders who regularly spent time in nature.

They found that fostering social connections around nature-based activities could be connected to improved health and quality of life. For those who found it challenging to hike quickly over difficult trails, ‘forest bathing’ could offer a safe and enjoyable alternative. Originally developed in Japan, this refers to spending time in nature while engaging in all senses. This could be tasting the air, smelling the air, or listening to a stream. 

The researchers studied elderly visitors to the Xitou Education Area in Taiwan between April and June 2022. 292 people aged 65 or older and who had visited the nature preserve at least once a week were asked questions including whether they felt supported by others, how much they thought about the experience, and how much purpose they felt they had in their lives.

The results of the study were published in the journal Leisure Sciences. They found that those who had discussed the experience in nature with others had a greater sense of attachment to forest bathing and had a stronger sense of purpose in life.

An improved sense of purpose is linked with better physical functioning, higher quality of life, and lower fear of death, Liang-Chih Chang, professor of living sciences at National Open University in New Taipei City, Taiwan.

“Forest bathing seems to connect people to the moment and the world,” Chang said. “When elders use that same experience to develop social connections and support, they may experience a broad range of benefits associated with physiological functioning as well as cognitive health. These are associations, not cause and effect, but the potential consequences are exciting to consider.”

The study follows research from John Dattilo, professor of recreation, park and tourism management at Penn State and co-author of this research. Dattilo explored the value of leisure experiences for elders in Taiwan as well as with colleagues from Penn State’s Center for Healthy Aging.

“We have conducted research on square dancing and karaoke, both of which are common activities for elders in Asia,” Dattilo said. “Forest bathing is unique in that it is closely tied to hiking, strolling or sitting in nature in which many elders engage across the globe. If leisure-service providers facilitate exposure to nature and help participants build a sense of community around those experiences, then elders could live, not only healthier, but richer and more meaningful lives.”

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