Staying active is imperative to living a long, healthy and happy life. Lifestyles that incorporate a variety of physical, mental and social activities can really enhance the lives of seniors during their “Golden Years.” Studies have shown that even moderate to light exercise and physical activity can improve the health of individuals who are frail or have health issues that accompany aging. For many seniors, independence is vital to their quality of life. By increasing your physical activity, you can remain strong and fit, allowing you to continue independently doing the things you like to do.
We all know that daily exercise helps ward off disease and chronic illnesses, improves balance, promotes weight loss, combats anxiety and depression, and keeps bones, muscles and joints working properly. In addition, findings reported by the Mayo Clinic and a rapidly growing body of research strongly suggests that exercise, specifically aerobic exercise, may lessen cognitive impairment, as well as delay the onset and reduce the risk of dementias.
Physically fit adults not only enjoy more robust health, they can look forward to a longer life. After reviewing the medical histories of more than 5,000 middle-aged and older Americans, Dutch researchers found that those who maintained moderate-to-high levels of activity lived 1.3 to 3.7 years longer than those who got little exercise.
There is a common misconception that physical activity becomes riskier as we age – many seniors are fearful of injury and so, are reluctant to exercise. In truth, inactivity is more of a health risk. Studies have shown that exercising and staying active are beneficial to preventing or delaying age-related diseases such as arthritis, heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Exercise improves balance and greatly reduces the risk of falling, which is important, because the mortality rate for falls increases dramatically with age.
In addition to having healthier bodies, seniors who exercise also have healthier brains. A study by the MacArthur Foundation found that exercise increases a chemical that stimulates the brain’s nerve growth. In fact, physically strenuous activity was discovered to be a predictor of continued high cognitive function. Researchers found that three key areas of the brain adversely affected by aging remain healthy when a person stays physically fit.
Additional studies have proven that aerobic exercise improves problem solving and other cognitive abilities by boosting cellular and molecular components of the brain. Mental activities can also improve senior wellness by providing brain stimulation. For example, card games, board games and brain teasers, including logic puzzles, crossword puzzles and Sudoku, are highly recommended. These types of games assist in maintaining and engaging mental and cognitive functions that involve reasoning, problem solving, memory, information processing and concentration. Many seniors enjoy playing interactive games such as bingo, Trivial Pursuit, and even Nintendo® Wii™ games, which combine mental and physical activity that can accommodate a variety of physical capabilities, cognitive levels and attention spans.
Social interactions and relationships are known to positively affect seniors’ overall health and wellness – reports document reduced mortality, in particular. Specific health benefits of social interaction in adults include potentially reduced risk for dementia and mental health issues such as depression, lower blood pressure, and potentially reduced risk for cardiovascular problems, some cancers, osteoporosis and arthritis.
It’s important to stay in touch with friends and family and spend time with them regularly. They can participate in activities at a senior center, which is a great way to meet new friends. Many adults who have made the decision to live in a senior community find fellowship and social interactions with peers to be a very engaging and wonderful experience that provides much needed socialization in a comfortable, safe and energetic community. One thing is for sure, seniors who stay active physically, mentally and socially add greatly to the quality of their lives!