8 tips for enjoying the outdoors for seniors

Excerpt: Getting outdoors can be a wonderful tonic for your physical and mental health, if you take appropriate precautions to prevent health problems. To enjoy the outdoors safely, stay hydrated, be active at cooler times of day, and protect your eyes and skin. Also wear loose-fitting, breathable clothing, watch for signs of heat exhaustion, and protect against insect bites.

Getting outdoors to enjoy a beautiful day feels good. It can also be a wonderful tonic for your physical and mental health, if you take appropriate precautions to prevent serious health problems that can result from too much exposure to sun, bugs and heat.

Outdoor activities offer even greater advantages for older adults in these times because being outdoors makes it easier for older adults to be active and socialize at a physical distance safely. People also feel a sense of freedom taking in fresh air in wide open outdoor spaces after being more confined indoors in the early days of the pandemic.

Here are some tips to help you enjoy the healing benefits of the outdoors safely:

  1. Stay hydrated
    Drink plenty of cool liquids, especially water, before you feel thirsty to decrease the risk of dehydration,* advises Health Canada. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables since they have high water content.

  2. Be active at cooler times
    In hot weather, plan outdoor activities such as walking, gardening, or swimming for early morning, late afternoon, or early evening.* During hotter parts of the day, walk or sit in shady areas.

  3. Keep physical distance and limit face mask use outdoors
    Wearing cloth face masks outdoors in warm, humid conditions for prolonged periods can cause breathing difficulties, especially for those with respiratory conditions, and cause bacteria to proliferate,* advises University of Toronto. Maintain a safe physical distance outdoors and avoid crowded areas. But carry a mask in case you’re in a situation where you can’t keep a safe distance or have to go indoors,* suggests Laval University.

  4. Dress for warm weather
    Wear loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing and a wide-brimmed hat made of breathable fabric to stay cool in the heat.*

  5. Protect your eyes
    When outdoors, wear wraparound sunglasses that block 99-100 per cent of both UVA (ultraviolet A) and UVB (ultraviolet B) light,* recommends the Canadian Ophthalmological Society. That will reduce the risk of eye damage including cataracts and macular degeneration.*

  6. Keep your skin healthy
    Apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher when you spend time outdoors,* says Harvard Medical School. It helps protect against overexposure to both UVA and UVB rays, which can otherwise cause sunburn, long-term skin damage and skin cancer.*

  7. Prevent insect stings
    To prevent or reduce the risk of insect bites, wear light-coloured, smooth-finished clothes that cover your body, and avoid wearing bright colours and scented products.* Apply insect repellant before going into wooded areas where you may encounter more insects.

  8. Watch for signs of heat exhaustion
    If you notice any signs of heat exhaustion, such as nausea, dizziness, cramps, or headache, stop your activity right away, move to a cool area and drink fluids.*

*The following sources are references for this in order of appearance:

1. Health Canada. “Extreme heat: heat waves.” (2020), online: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/sun-safety/extreme-heat-heat-waves.html

2. Government of Canada. “Hot topic: Summer safety.” (2018), online: https://www.getprepared.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/sfttps/tp201407-en.aspx

3. CBC. “High heat, humidity can be a problem when wearing a mask outdoors, experts say.” (2020), online: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/heat-covid-masks-1.5586327

4. Canadian Ophthalmological Society. “Vision safety.” (2020), online: https://www.cos-sco.ca/vision-health-information/vision-safety/#:~:text=Tips%20from%20the%20Canadian%20Ophthalmological%20Society%20%28COS%29%20for,where%20appropriate.%20Use%20grease%20shields%20on%20frying%20pans.

5. Harvard Medical School. “Sun protection: Appropriate sunscreen use.” (2018), online: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/sun-protection-appropriate-sunscreen-use-2018062114114

6. HealthLink BC. “Preventing insect stings.” (2018), online: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/rt1324

7. HealthLink BC. “Quick tips: Staying active in hot weather.” (2019), online: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/ad1203