The benefits of nature at any age
My mom has had this quote from Mark Twain on her wall ever since I was small: “Age is a matter of the mind. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” As I continue to age myself, I of course appreciate that quote more than ever, and part of my mission is to encourage people to enjoy nature at any age.
Limits and Possibilities
My husband, son and I recently returned from a two-night backpacking trip (my first!). As I was talking about that trip in an online group, one woman told me that she doesn’t camp anymore because of her age. She’s 75 and her husband is 78. However, she said they still go on short hikes.
During the course of our backpacking hike, we encountered people of all ages. Our son, age 7, was one the youngest, but we did see several other children as well. We also passed people well into their 80s who were on the trail for a day hike. Most notably, we passed a grandmother with her teenaged granddaughter who backpacked in and camped for one night.
You don’t know your limits until you test them. If you believe you can’t, then you won’t. If you believe you can try, then you will. Maybe backpacking and tent camping isn’t your thing, but what about renting a pop-up camper and spending a few days near a river?
Myth: Age as a Barrier
In the Personal Nature Project course, I mention my mom several times. She is a vibrant woman in her 70s who has mobility challenges. She doesn’t hike, ski or bike anymore, but she spends a lot of time outside in my parents’ big backyard. She still plants flowers every year, and she likes to report on the birds that visit their yard. Neither age nor mobility limitations prevent her from spending time in nature.
While the media tend to focus on the benefits of nature for children, we don’t age out of our need for fresh air, sunshine and green things. We are each a part of nature, and reconnecting with ourselves in nature is available to every one of us.
Don Rakow, director of the NatureRx program and study at Cornell University, points to nature’s ability to improve several aspects of people’s lives:
“Psychological benefits include reduced stress, anxiety, and depression. Physiological benefits include improved concentration and cognitive function, pain control, and faster recovery time from injuries. Attitudinal benefits include greater happiness, life satisfaction, reduced aggression, and better social connections.”
He wrote a book in 2019 about those benefits for college students, but he is quick to point out that people of all ages can improve their well-being by spending 10 minutes per day (or more) in a natural setting.
I am firmly in midlife, so aging comes to mind more often these days. I go in phases of fighting against it, but I mostly have learned to love and embrace it.
For me, nature offers a wonderful meditation on the beauty of life cycles. Learning to view my own aging as part of a natural cycle, with each stage representing a different type of growth and beauty. No living thing remains in its emergent, nascent phase. A seedling becomes an 80-foot tree. A nestling grows into a soaring eagle. Even the rocks and mountains erode and morph over time, making space for the sand, dirt, plants and wildlife that surround them. We are part of that beautiful story of change, and learning to become an active part of that story empowers me and brings me peace.
I invite you to learn more about starting a nature practice in your own life with the Personal Nature Project online course. The course focuses on well-being and self-reflection and guides you through overcoming barriers and seeking out new experiences in the context of nature. You can enjoy nature at any age. You can also follow me on Instagram: @personalnatureproject