Connect with people in the great outdoors

Sure, you can walk or do other outdoor activities alone – but where’s the fun in that? 

According to a 2019 study of almost 20,000 people, spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is linked with good health and well-being.

It doesn’t even matter if there are long-term health issues, if the time was a solid chunk or small segments, or how old you are. Just get outdoors, and connect!

As long as you’re outdoors, extreme physical activity isn’t essential (although if you want some, visit here). 

You can simply sit in a natural setting, like in Japanese forest-bathing, according to this New York Times story.

Pedal to the metal

So, combining being out in fresh air, sunshine and flowers abloom with others is a win-win.

Layne Zimmerman, 73, (photo at right, in the middle) has done group bike rides for 30 years.

“I don’t like to bike alone – I do groups for safety, motivation and to enjoy the company of others.”

Thanks to joining bicycling clubs in the San Francisco Bay Area like Bicycle Adventure Club and Grizzly, she met many riders age 50+. (For a national list of bike clubs, visit here.)

Local rides are free (annual membership is $15-30), stop for lunch (a restaurant or picnic spot) and make rides easy and organized.

A calendar lists rides, length, level of difficulty and maps of routes and stops (printed maps are also distributed).

Seeing the same people regularly evolved into get-togethers and sparked friendships, she notes.

She also did many multi-night group bike rides in the U.S. and overseas.

“Before I went to New Zealand, my first foreign ride, I told my friends I was feeling old – I was 48. Well, the group leader was 76.

My friend and I were the youngest on the trip,” Zimmerman laughs.

Since then, she’s biked in Glacier National Park in Montana, New York’s Adirondacks, Italy, Mallorca and Thailand with BAC, whose rides are “pretty rugged,” at least 25 miles a day. “I’m usually the slowest.”

Garden Poles

Ann DuBois and three neighbors decorated garden poles for their front yards last summer on Camano Island in northwest Washington State.

One, Annie Peltonen, a working artist, gave overall guidance in techniques and encouragement to the women friends, all 60-70ish, who “do everything together,” who worked in her basement studio.

“The three non-artists went into this with great apprehension,” recalls DuBois. “But Annie said just have fun, it’s more about the process.

We learned to relax a bit and played around with colors,” creating colorful designs of flowers, abstracts and words.

Their project began “partly because of being home so much and looking for things to do outside,” but the women were so proud of the results, they then painted a mural on wood for a neighbor.

Group Gardening

Albert Wald, 82, (at left) has been beautifying San Francisco, one tree at a time.

For 20 years, he’s planted trees all over the city, from magnolia and willow to plum trees, as a volunteer with Friends of the Urban Forest, a nonprofit that organizes plantings of 40-50 street trees twice a month.

The planting starts with donuts and coffee for 30-70 volunteers, and usually ends with a potluck dinner.

He’s made four good friends from FUF, fellow planting leaders who are older than other volunteers.

“One guy remembers every tree he ever planted,” Wald recalls.  “He never missed a planting for 35 years until he had a heart attack.”

More of a plant ‘em and leave ‘em guy, Wald prefers planting trees to the sidewalk gardens, which FUF also plants (even though lifting five-gallon tree buckets is like lifting weights). 

“I prefer standing up, not being on my knees,” Wald explains.

Now You Try! 

Want to get out there…and meet people? Try these tips:

  • Think of the wide range of outdoor group activities. Dance, yoga, exercise and art classes neighborhood walking tours and bird-watching are just a few.
  • So are beach cleanups (contact Ocean Conservancy or Surfrider Foundation), tree and flower plantings (contact Tree City USA or American Community Garden Association) and farm volunteering (contact local farms), says Sandi Schwartz, director of Ecohappinessproject, whose upcoming book, Finding Ecohappiness: How the Power of Nature Can Help Your Family Feel Happier and Calmer (2022) has a chapter on volunteering outdoors.
  • Pick an activity suited to your desired level of exertion, overall health and interests. Perhaps the slow, gentle, easy movements of tai chi are more your pace than an adrenalin-pumping bike ride or dance class. Pay attention to “level of difficulty” if listed.
  • Start your own group activity. After a neighbor of DuBois spotted a garden pole and checked out store prices, they decided to make their own.

Photo: (Top)  (Right to left) Ann DuBois, Annie Peltonen, Sue Robinette, Alex Keggan;  Photo by Jim Knight

Photo: (Middle) (Right to left) Georgia Holtz, Layne Zimmerman, Beany Wezelman; Photo by Layne Zimmerman

Photo: (Bottom) Albert Wald: Photo by Friends of the Urban Forest