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Living a Better Retirement Lifestyle: The Health Benefits of Living Near Water and Walking in Nature

A senior couple holds hands while walking in nature together

It’s hard to sell the benefits of spending time in nature to a country accustomed to being inside.We Americans spend so much of our working and leisure hours sedentary and indoors. While we’re at work we’re sitting at a desk staring at a computer under the glare of fluorescent lights. When we clock out of work and get home, we’re sitting on a couch watching the glow of the TV or computer screen until we go to bed. And then we do it all over the next day.

No small wonder, then, that 40 million American adults suffer from anxiety, and a staggering 60 million Americans report some form of sleep disorder, from occasional to chronic.We’re a stressed-out nation.But nature, not pharmaceuticals, might be the key to helping us relax. Researchers say there are so many benefits of spending time in nature. A walk in the woods lowered levels of cortisol, known as the stress hormone, and improved the mood of the study participants more than physical activity alone.

This is also true for people who live near water — the benefits of living near water create something biologist and author Dr. Wallace J. Nichols calls the blue mind. He wrote a book about the remarkable effects of water in all its shapes and forms on our health and well-being.

Four big benefits of being in nature

1. It supports aging successfully. A 2012 study by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health showed that spending at least 30 minutes outdoors in nature can have long-term functional health benefits for older adults, from higher vitamin D levels and better bone health to reduced fear of falling and improved quality of life.

2. Nature therapy can heal. Being outside walking in nature for 120 minutes (yep, the greatest benefits come to us with at least two hours of outdoor time every week; researchers actually timed it) can lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels, reduce nervous system arousal, enhance immune system function, increase self-esteem, reduce anxiety and improve mood.  The study said it didn’t matter how 120 mins of time in nature a week was achieved (as in one long visit versus several shorter visits every week). So even if you break your time into smaller chunks each day, you’ll still reap the benefits of nature’s healing power.

3. It improves your vision. Remember what we said about Americans spending time staring at laptops and TV screens? We do it 10 hours a day, on average. Going outside gives our eyes a break, allowing our eyes to look in the distance more often instead of focusing up close so much. Australian researchers even found that kids who spend too much time in front of screens risk developing myopia later in life.

4. It prompts weight loss and helps build muscle. Walking outdoors along a hiking trail, scrambling around on boulders, trekking up a hill with a backpack on — all make physical activity much more enjoyable. And exercising in a way we enjoy encourages us to do it more often, which has its obvious benefits with weight loss and muscle gain. In general, walking is one of the best exercises for older adults, too. (Here’s a good tip: A half-gallon of water, which is also 4 liters, weighs about five pounds. If you fill a 2-liter water bladder and hike with it, you’re adding a good challenge of walking with weight!)

Three big benefits of living near water

Danish author Isak Dinesen once said, “The cure for anything is salt water — sweat, tears, or the sea.” She might have been onto something there; people who live near the coasts are happier and healthier, according to recent studies. And this applies to other bodies of water beyond oceans, such as lakes, streams and rivers. Why is that?

1. Water is a natural immune booster. Plants and trees, particularly those around water, give off chemicals called phytoncides. These help elevate humans’ white blood cell counts when inhaled. And white blood cells are responsible for fighting off infections and illnesses.

2. It encourages better sleep. The rhythmic nature of water, whether it’s waves lapping upon land, the continual babbling of a brook or the rush of a river, acts as white noise. True white noise essentially creates a blanket of sound that masks sudden noises, like creaking floors or a slamming door. White noise allows the mind and body to relax into greater, deeper sleep.

3. It makes people happier. Research has shown that looking at or enjoying water floods the brain with dopamine, or feel good hormones, naturally. This means people exposed to water are often more relaxed and happier in general. Interestingly, researchers found dopamine levels were higher if subjects looked at the water in person, not simply looked at a picture of the water.

Need one big advantage of living at Lake Seminole Square? You can benefit from both living near water and spending time in nature, all at one retirement community!

We’re just minutes from St. Petersburg, Florida, and its pristine beaches. Our community offers residents landscaped courtyards, gardens and walking paths, a lakefront dock and a pontoon boat on Lake Seminole. We’re also just across the water from Lake Seminole Park, and a short drive to numerous green spaces.

If you’d like to see everything Lake Seminole Square offers — beyond the nature and the water — start by contacting us. We’ll arrange your personal visit!