The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that regular physical activity is one of the most important things older adults can do for their health.

It can prevent or delay health problems, reduce the amount of medications you must take, and help muscles grow stronger so you can keep doing your regular, day-to-day activities without assistance.

The CDC recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity activity, such as hiking, jogging, or cycling.


How Outdoor Recreation Keeps You Feeling Young

Doing these activities outdoors, rather than on an indoor treadmill or exercise bike, has the added advantage of exposing you to beneficial vitamin D production from sunlight and the relaxing, stress-reducing properties of breathing in fresh air. Medical professionals agree.

“Being outside and using outdoor recreation as a form of physical activity can lead to a lot of great physical benefits,” said Dr. Michael Suk, chief physician officer for Geisinger System Services.

“It could help control your heart rate or decrease your blood pressure. It can help your respiratory system by enhancing your breathing. And overall, it can help you lose weight.”

“In my former life as a registered nurse, I saw how some people responded better to care than others,” said Dr. Elizabeth Katrancha, BSN nursing program coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh Johnstown.

“Older adults who were more active and physically fit had fewer falls and recovered more quickly from illness. Truly, the magic pill to aging is staying active.”

It is more than our physical health that benefits from outdoor recreation. Mental and emotional health can improve also.

Studies show that outdoor activity improves self-esteem and reduces tension, anger, and depression. Stress hormones are reduced after spending time in nature too.

Margarita Caicedo, 50-plus resident of Pennsylvania and relative newbie to outdoor recreation, said, “Outdoor activity has helped me in the last couple of years. I was diagnosed with clinical depression, and I started noticing that after spending time in nature, my stress levels were very low. Now my life is more peaceful; I am happy.”


No Excuses; Go Enjoy the Outdoors!

Because of the many physical, mental, and emotional health benefits of outdoor recreation for anyone, but in particular for those 50-plus, the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation developed resources to assist people in finding and enjoying outdoor recreation.

These include a series of videos on the health benefits of outdoor recreation, which can be viewed at

“We developed these videos for several reasons,” said Marci Mowery, president of PPFF. “But the primary one is to give people another reason to get outdoors. It’s good for their health! This is especially true for older adults who might feel unsure of how to start.

“The videos include people like them who started out with short walks in nature and gradually worked their way to longer hikes and even volunteer opportunities in state parks and forests, like gardening, painting, and trail work.”

If limited mobility or health issues have kept you from outdoor recreation and volunteer opportunities in the past, take note that Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests system are focused on improving accessibility and inclusion.

“Recreation for All” is one of five core priorities in the most recent Pennsylvania outdoor recreation plan, which encourages parks to incorporate universal design to improve access and increase the availability of adaptive activities and equipment.

While nearly all Pennsylvania state parks and forests offer some form of accessible recreation, there are some with multiple outdoor activities. You can find a spot near you at or at

“There’s no doubt that being active and gathering outdoors got many people through the pandemic, and those experiences have reminded us about what we already knew: that outdoor recreation plays a big role in our health and well-being,” said Cindy Dunn, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

“We are fortunate to have a wealth of public lands and waters that, combined with Pennsylvanians’ love for the outdoors, have created a great environment for outdoor recreation.”


Jessica Aiello is a freelance writer for the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation.

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