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Study co-author Prof Claire Freeman, of the Otago geography department, said planners had long known the importance of green space, but adjustments should be made to meet the needs of an ageing population.
"People have a life-long contact with nature- it's really important that they don't lose it,'' Prof Freeman said.
More people were living in smaller houses and rest-homes, and needed "green immediately around their home''.
Older adults might not be able to access other green space, "as they can't walk or drive to it''.
Local councils should help educate the public by modelling how small spaces could be landscaped to include a range of vegetation, and support biodiversity.
Landscaping of rest-home gardens could also switch from focusing on colourful shrubs, and include more trees and native species likely to attract birds.
Lead author Associate Prof Yolanda van Heezik, of the Otago zoology department, said contact with nature enhanced people's physical, mental and spiritual well-being.
This reduced stress and blood pressure and enhanced mood and social interactions.
But older adults' ability to experience nature was often diminished by declining health, mobility, and home type.
The Otago study findings, published in the journal Environment and Behavior, revealed older people spent less time in natural places as they aged.
The Otago researchers investigated older adults occupying family, downsized, and rest homes to determine factors linked to changes in nature engagement, as people age.
Policies for more compact urban growth were threatening private gardens, where older adults could ``enjoy nature, largely irrespective of age and frailty'', Prof Yolanda van Heezik said.