Comment

Ian Hulatt: Everyone needs the health benefits of being outdoors

Care homes and services for people with mental health problems should act on evidence that access to outdoor spaces can improve mood.

Care homes and services for people with mental health problems should act on evidence that access to outdoor spaces can improve mood

outdoors
Spending time outdoors is important for people's health. Picture: Tim George

A study by researchers at the University of Warwick has shown that for many older people in care homes it takes a great effort to get outdoors. This isn’t due to a lack of will but rather the environment they are living in and the restrictions placed on them, which range from needing permission to go outside to inadequate seating in gardens.

I think we all value the opportunity to feel the warmth of the sun on our faces and smell the fresh earth after rain. It can make us feel better in ourselves and lift our spirits. We also now know that contact with the sun’s rays can be not only a pleasant experience but also one that is necessary for our health.

The Warwick study, published in the journal Gerontologist, concluded that increasing access to outdoor spaces could positively affect depressive symptoms in older people. 

Well understood

Our predecessors in nursing understood this well. The old asylum airing courts may have been drab affairs but getting outside was considered essential for the health of those in long-term care. Even poorly, bedridden children were wheeled out onto verandas in nearly all weathers.

There has been institutional awareness for a very long time that being outside is important.

It’s so encouraging to have visited the new build at Broadmoor psychiatric hospital and seen how the patients are to be afforded the opportunity to be outside, and not even for the stereotypical smoking time – Broadmoor is smoke-free – but to enjoy the freedom it affords to enjoy the benefits of the carefully created environment.

However, I have seen care environments that are closed in every sense of the word, where the outdoors is a tantalisingly close place that you leave behind when you enter. The outside world makes itself known to us in many ways.

Staff and patients alike need to have access to the affirming experiences that being there can offer.


Ian Hulatt is consultant editor of Mental Health Practice and RCN professional lead for mental health 

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