Outdoor natural environments: An active space for the older adult?

This is a joint posting from Beyond Greenspace and the Ageing & Physical Activity blog. Selected slides from the seminar are available to download – linked from the presenters’ names below.


On 1st July, we held a seminar titled Outdoor natural environments: An active space for the older adult?  This was our 6th event in the series “More of the same is not enough: New Directions in Ageing and Physical Activity” funded by ESRC. As with the other seminars in the series, it was excellent to bring together a diverse audience to generate new discussions on the future of how we understand and act on the complex array of issues involved in older people’s physical activity.

In the excellent setting of Roots & Shoots (an oasis in the midst of Kennington, London), we had a great day of talks and discussions around how outdoor environments could play a role in supporting physical activity as we get older. Nuzhat Ali [slides], Lead for Older Adults Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England set the scene with a talk on the national context and relevant policy, such as Everybody active, every day! Next up, Sarah Bell [slides] from the University of Exeter Medical School described some findings from her geo-narrative research, capturing the complexities of older people’s experiences of being active outdoors.

Barbara Humberstone [slides] from New Bucks University focussed on on water-based activities, considering enjoyment, pleasure and place as features of wellbeing for older bodies engaged in water-based outdoor activities. Katherine Brookfield from the University of Edinburgh discussed findings from the Mood, Mobility, Place project on how urban environments can be designed to support and enable mobility in our growing cities and towns. Finally, Craig Lister [slides], MD of the Green Gym at TCV  highlighted the excellent opportunities afforded by environmental volunteering, including TCV Scotland’s programme focussed on older people. We wound up the day with some provocative discussions on everything from gender in the great outdoors, to interventions under economic austerity, to the importance of fun!

Wrapping up thoughts from the day, it’s clear that while the evidence is quite mixed (a brief evidence summary on natural environment and PA more generally is available from Natural England), there are suggestions that natural and other outdoor environments of all sorts might provide good opportunities and motivation to support physical activity as we age. This opportunity could be capitalised upon through physically modifying our environments, increasing accessibility, and providing specific programmes and activities within different places. However, it also seems crucial that we thoroughly understand the relevant social processes and individual contexts to ensure that the opportunities of our everyday environments are inclusive, and do not lead to exacerbation of socio-economic and other inequalities.

Details of future seminars in the series are here: seminars.ecehh.org

One comment

  1. Very interesting to hear the variety of thoughts on this topic. It’s important to continually look at how we can all increase our physical activity. Not only is it a crucial part to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but it holds so many benefits for our mental health. Both should be prioritise, so if there’s a way of making this easier or more accessible, such as providing access to outdoor natural environments, then it’s definitely worth looking into.

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