BROAD COLLABORATION IS TAKING SENIORS INTO NATURE
Even during pandemic times, hitting the sidewalks and trails of Santa Barbara is a surefire way to stay fit.
“Many doctors and other health professionals cite moderate physical activity, including walking, as a ‘magic pill’ for excellent health,” said Margaret Weiss, director of health education for Sansum Clinic. “It can maintain the body’s systems in good condition and reduce the risk of chronic illness.”
Plus, getting outside is free, requires no special equipment, and can relieve stress. With this in mind, a broad group of organizations — including CenCal Health, City of Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation Department, Cottage Health, Sansum Clinic, Healthy Lompoc Coalition, Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, and Santa Barbara County Trails Council — developed Healthy People Healthy Trails to motivate people to embrace an active lifestyle and connect to the outdoors. The website offers maps to easy and enjoyable walks around Santa Barbara County.
Walking is a particularly good activity for older adults, as it can be done year-round by people of all ages and abilities. “Walking serves many purposes — exercise, fun, and transportation,” said Weiss. “And in challenging times, such as the pandemic, walking is an effective stress reliever and provides a distraction from everyday worries.”
To maintain good health, experts suggest 30 minutes of activity on most days, 60 minutes for youth. But not even these moderate goals are being achieved, said Weiss, explaining, “Less than 25 percent of adults and less than 50 percent of youth get the recommended amount of activity.”
For older adults, such activity is known to extend lifespans, reduce the risk of falls, improve balance and agility, prevent osteoporosis and muscle loss, and delay the onset of cognitive decline. And evidence suggests that when the exercise is done outdoors, nature enhances the health benefits.
“Recent studies compared people who walked in a forest with people who walked in a city,” said Weiss. “Consistently, even when the groups switched locations, those who were in nature had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, lower blood pressure, and lower pulse rates.”
At a time when we are all advised to stay home as much as possible, especially seniors, walking around your neighborhood or in a nearby park can be the safest, easiest choice. For those just starting a walking program, Weiss suggested finding somewhere flat and firm, but also somewhere that is interesting. “Walking is great for health, and it is even better when you get a glimpse of the mountains, the ocean, or a beautiful tree in your neighborhood,” she said.
Healthy People Healthy Trails: healthypeoplehealthytrails.org/easy-hikes
Originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent on July 30, 2020. To view the Active Aging Guide to Senior Life, Seen Through a Pandemic Lens, click here.