Designing an Outdoor Wellness Environment

“Only spread a fern-frond over a man’s head and worldly cares are cast out, and freedom and beauty and peace come in.”  — John Muir

Research has shown that access to outdoor spaces can enhance health and wellbeing. People of all ages experience benefits from exposure to nature, including stress relief, mental restoration and increased physical activity. For older populations, access to outdoor spaces motivates seniors to be active physically, spiritually and socially, which can offset chronic illness, disability and isolation.

In designing the outdoor spaces for the Peninsula Wellness Community (PWC), the Peninsula Health Care District’s team of planners, designers and aging experts conducted significant research to identify how best to meet the needs of our senior community. We adopted an evidence-based design approach, making decisions about the built environment based on credible findings and best practices. Specifically, our landscape design focuses on the ways that outdoor spaces can enhance the physical, psychological and social well-being of our future senior residents.

Outdoor spaces can improve physical wellbeing in several ways. They provide an opportunity for physical activity and movement, and can inspire daily exercise and rehabilitation. Studies show that people are more likely to walk for exercise when surrounded by pleasing aesthetics, and with access to a convenient path.[1] For individuals participating in physical therapy, a garden setting may be a more attractive alternative than a hallway or exercise room.

For individuals with reduced cognitive capabilities, such as those with dementia or Alzheimer’s, well-designed outdoor environments can provide prosthetic support. This permits an older person to function, in spite of disabilities, by allowing for independence, challenge and learning. 2  For example, dead-end paths and crowded routes can cause frustration in individuals with Alzheimer’s.3 However, outdoor environments with circular paths and visual markers can provide stress reduction and allow for navigation, and feelings of empowerment.

To address the physical needs of our older residents, we’ve designed an environment that will encourage exercise and engage the five senses. It will include a variety of walkways and transition spaces that offer appropriate levels of challenge and support when needed.  For example, individuals with impaired memory can enjoy looped paths and strong points of orientation, such as tactile materials and plants, that will help enhance sensory perception.

Access to outdoor spaces can also improve psychological well-being, including stress reduction and improved cognition. For individuals who experience chronic illness or pain, nature can engage their interest and distract them from pain or feelings of sickness.4 Many older individuals in hospitals or assisted-living facilities experience depression and stress due to their perceived lack of control in making decisions about things like clothing, meals, and schedules. For them, outdoor spaces offer a sense of choice and increased feelings of control.5

The PWC’s landscape design will focus on improving psychological well-being by addressing residents’ needs for control and self-identity. This includes giving people options for privacy by offering secluded and semi-private outdoor seating as well views of greenery from rooms. The design also will encourage exploration, without fear of accidents, by providing adequate visual markers and railings. Edible garden areas will provide opportunities to garden and to feel a sense of purpose by caring for the natural environment around them.

As they age, many seniors report feelings of isolation. That’s why PWC has taken steps to promote social activity and interaction. Outdoor seating will include moveable furniture to stimulate group interaction and conversation. Benches will be located near “activity generators,” such as cross roads, mailboxes, gardening plots and a café. Additionally, there will be areas for activities such as yoga, or places for children to play.

The PWC will be a gathering place for living well. Outdoor spaces will offer promising opportunities for health and wellness enhancement for seniors, families and community members. PHCD is proud to be at the forefront of bringing the opportunities and benefits of connected aging, particularly as it relates to quality of life for seniors, to our Peninsula residents.

For more information about PWC and to learn about the next community meeting, please visit: www.peninsulahealthcaredistrict.org.


 

1 Ball, K., Bauman, A., Leslie, E. & Owen., N. (2001). Perceived environmental aesthetics and convenience and company are associated with walking for exercise among Australian adults. Preventive Medicine, 33(5), 434-440. DOI: 10.1006/pmed.2001.0912.

2 Marcus, C. L., & C. Francis, eds. (1997). People Places: Design Guidelines for Urban Open Space, 2nd Ed. Toronto, Canada: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=tFVLm-A5hEgC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false.

3 Mooney, P., & P.L. Nicell. (1992). The Importance of Exterior Environment for Alzheimer Residents: Effective Care and Risk Management. Healthcare Management Forum 5, 2: 23-29.

4 Kaplan, S. (1995). The Restorative Benefits of Nature: Toward an Integrated Framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15(3), 169-182. Retrieved from http://www.wienerzeitung.at/_em_daten/_wzo/2015/08/07/150807_1710_kaplan_s._19951.pdf.

5 Ulrich, R., Dimberg, S. U., & Driver, B. L. (1991). Psychophysiological Indicators of Leisure Benefits. In B. L. Driver, P. J. Brown & G. L. Peterson (Eds.), Benefits of Leisure (pp. 73-89). State College, PA: Venture Publishing.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Ball, K., Bauman, A., Leslie, E. & Owen., N. (2001). Perceived environmental aesthetics and convenience and company are associated with walking for exercise among Australian adults. Preventive Medicine, 33(5), 434-440. DOI: 10.1006/pmed.2001.0912.
2 Marcus, C. L., & C. Francis, eds. (1997). People Places: Design Guidelines for Urban Open Space, 2nd Ed. Toronto, Canada: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=tFVLm-A5hEgC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false.
3 Mooney, P., & P.L. Nicell. (1992). The Importance of Exterior Environment for Alzheimer Residents: Effective Care and Risk Management. Healthcare Management Forum 5, 2: 23-29.

4 Kaplan, S. (1995). The Restorative Benefits of Nature: Toward an Integrated Framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15(3), 169-182. Retrieved from http://www.wienerzeitung.at/_em_daten/_wzo/2015/08/07/150807_1710_kaplan_s._19951.pdf.

5 Ulrich, R., Dimberg, S. U., & Driver, B. L. (1991). Psychophysiological Indicators of Leisure Benefits. In B. L. Driver, P. J. Brown & G. L. Peterson (Eds.), Benefits of Leisure (pp. 73-89). State College, PA: Venture Publishing.

 

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