Of course you can go hiking or other outdoor activities on your own, but where is that fun? According to a 2019 study of nearly 20,000 people, spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature has been linked to good health and well-being. It doesn’t even matter if there are long-term health problems, if the time was a solid chunk or small segments, or how old you are. Just get out and connect!
As long as you are outside, extreme physical activity is not essential (but if you want some, visit here). You can just sit in a natural environment, such as in Japanese forest baths, according to this New York Times story.
Pedal on the metal
So combining being outdoors in the fresh air, sunshine and blooming flowers with others is a win-win. Layne Zimmerman, 73, (photo right, center) has been on group bike rides for 30 years. “I don’t like to ride alone – I do groups for safety, motivation and to enjoy the company of others.” Thanks to her affiliation with San Francisco Bay Area cycling clubs such as Bicycle Adventure Club and Grizzly, she met many riders aged 50 and over. (Visit here for a national cycling club list.)
Local rides are free (annual membership is $ 15-30), stop for lunch (a restaurant or picnic area), and make rides easy and organized. A calendar contains rides, length, difficulty and maps with routes and stops (printed maps are also distributed). Seeing the same people regularly grow into gatherings and form friendships, she notes.
She also did many multi-night bike rides in the US and abroad. “Before I went to New Zealand, my first trip abroad, I told my friends I felt old – I was 48. Well, the group leader was 76. My friend and I were the youngest on the trip,” laughs Zimmerman. Since then she has cycled Glacier National Park in Montana, Adirondacks in New York, Italy, Mallorca and Thailand with BAC, whose rides are “pretty rough”, at least 40 kilometers a day. “I’m usually the slowest.”
Ann DuBois and three neighbors decorated garden posts for their front yard on Camano Island in northwestern Washington State last summer. One, Annie Peltonen, a working artist, gave general guidance in techniques and encouragement to the female friends, all 60-70 years old, who ‘do everything together’, who worked in her basement studio.
“The three non-artists responded with great concern,” recalls DuBois. But Annie just said have fun, it’s more about the process. We learned to relax a bit and played with colors, ”created colorful designs of flowers, abstracts and words.
Their project started “partly because they were so often at home looking for things to do outside,” but the women were so proud of the results that they then painted a mural on wood for a neighbor.
Albert Wald, 82, (left) has decorated San Francisco tree by tree. For 20 years, he has been planting trees all over town, from magnolia and willow trees to plums, as a volunteer at Friends of the Urban Forest, a nonprofit that plants 40-50 street trees twice a month. Planting starts with donuts and coffee for 30-70 volunteers and usually ends with a potluck dinner.
He has made four good friends of FUF, fellow plant leaders who are older than other volunteers. “A man remembers every tree he ever planted,” Wald recalls. “He never missed a plant for 35 years, until he had a heart attack.” More of a plant them and let them man, Wald prefers planting trees by the sidewalks, which FUF also plants (although lifting five gallon tree buckets is the same as lifting weights). “I’d rather get up, not on my knees,” Wald explains.
Now YOU To attempt!
Do you want to get out … and meet people? Try these tips:
- Consider the wide range of outdoor group activities. Dance, yoga, exercise and art classes, city walks and bird watching are just a few. That includes beach cleanups (contact Ocean Conservancy or Surfrider Foundation), tree and flower plantings (contact Tree City USA or American Community Garden Association), and farm volunteer work (contact local farms), says Sandi Schwartz, director of Ecohappiness Project, whose upcoming book, Finding Ecohappiness: How the power of nature can help your family feel happier and calmer (2022) has a chapter on volunteering outside the home.
- Choose an activity that suits your desired level of effort, overall health, and interests. Maybe tai chi’s slow, gentle, easy movements are more your pace than an adrenaline-pumping bike ride or dance class. Note “difficulty” if stated.
- Start your own group activity. After a neighbor of DuBois saw a garden pole and checked shop prices, they decided to make one themselves.
Photo: (top) (right to left) Ann DuBois, Annie Peltonen, Sue Robinette, Alex Keggan; Photo by Jim Knight
Photo: (center) (right to left) Georgia Holtz, Layne Zimmerman, Beany Wezelman; Photo by Layne Zimmerman
Photo: (Below) Albert Wald: Photo by Friends of the city forest