Nature Relatedness and Well-being in Older Adults in Northwestern Ohio

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2023-05

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The Ohio State University

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Background: Research indicates that interaction with the natural environment facilitates positive wellbeing. Studies from a wide range of disciplines confirm that contact with the natural environment has the potential to affect mental and physical health including, lower rates of anxiety and depression, improved immune system functioning and blood glucose levels, and overall positive functional health status. While research on the role of nature relatedness on the overall well-being of urban-dwelling older adults does exist, there remains a clear gap on research with older adults living in rural areas. Informed by Bronfenbrenner's Theory of Human Ecology, this study examines the effects of spending time in nature on the psychosocial wellbeing of older adults in two rural Ohio counties. Methods: Using convenience sampling methods, this study enrolled non-institutionalized older adults (50 years and over) residing in Northwest, Ohio. The data was collected through an online survey hosted on OSU Qualtrics in November-December 2022. Open and closed-ended questions were used and asked about participants' characteristics, interaction with nature, and physical and mental health. Results: A total of 73 responses were received but 6 responses were omitted from analysis due to being outside the study age-range (N=67). The average respondent was 63.84 years old (M= 63.84, SD= 7.09) and lived in a mean household of 2.09 members. Approximately 48% of the respondents reported an annual household income of above $91,000 and approximately 61% identified as female. Preliminary analysis indicates that on average, participants spent 22.35 hours in nature each month with the most common outdoor activities listed as hiking, gardening, and walking. Participants identified challenges to spending time in nature including physical mobility, time, and the weather. Approximately 92% rated their mental health as either good or very good, and 71.7% rated their physical health as good or very good. An emerging and unexpected finding from qualitative responses was around spirituality. Participants described a spiritual connection and specifically mentioned God and their relationship to God as integral to their connection with the natural environment. Discussion: As the World Health Organization's Age Friendly Movement continues to gain momentum in rural areas, and as we are grappling with the long-term change in the climate, there is need for more studies on the well-being of older Americans as they navigate their natural environment.

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well-being, nature relatedness, older adults, rural, Ohio, spirituality, social work

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