The words "green" and "caregiving" aren't often seen together. Environmentally-aware advice tends to focus on nature-friendly ways you can live better and longer, rather than on green ways to take care of family members who are already living longer (even though they never detoxified their homes or ate home-composted antioxidants).

What's more, a lot of the green advice out there is beyond my pocketbook (hybrid cars, organic everything) or my patience. (Am I the only person left who find those compact fluorescent bulbs unkind to aging eyes?) Some standard eco-advice can also be impractical for caregivers, like turning the thermostat down to 60 degrees if you have a frail person in the house who needs it warm.

But I was delighted to learn this week about these simple "green" measures which, if they don't save the planet at least certainly don't hurt it—and might save the family member you care for:

  • Take a walk in a park together. Spending time outdoors in nature improves mental functioning, like attention and memory, especially when compared to walking in an urban setting, University of Michigan researchers report in the January Psychological Science.
  • Can't get outside? Watch a nature documentary, flip through a coffee table book, or review photos of a past trip to a national park. The UM study also showed that even looking at nature secondhand from indoors provides more mental-health benefit than walking outside in a city! The researchers think it's because nature is more symmetrical and aesthetic, requiring less mental energy to process (and therefore being more calming). City scenes, in contrast, present a complex, confusing array of stimuli to process—they're less mentally restorative.
  • Follow-up an illness or a hospitalization with the gift of flowers. Yet another study, this time on people recovering from abdominal surgery, affirms that greenery seems to speed recovery. (There's a growing body of this research.) Comparing two groups, one with flowers in their hospital room and one without, Kansas State University researchers found that the plant-bestowed group used significantly less pain medication, had better (lower) blood pressure and heart rate, and reported less pain, anxiety, and fatigue.

Tip: Nurses told the researchers that potted plants are better than flowers because they last longer, and as the patients recovered, they liked to tend to them, further aiding healing.

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