8 ways seniors can keep their minds and bodies in tiptop shape

Staying active doesn’t always have to mean attending your weekly aerobics class. Here are a few more ways to stay happy and healthy through the summer.

elderly couple jogging together
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Finding ways to stay both physically and mentally active as an older adult can challenge your creativity and your schedule. Here, find a handful of ways to keep yourself inspired as the warmer months bring us back outdoors.

Being Active

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older adults, both male and female, can benefit greatly from regularly scheduled, consistent physical activity. As always, consult with your physician prior to starting any physical activity regimens, and take note of any underlying conditions when it comes to increased frequency or intensity.

Here are three low-intensity workouts that will have you up and moving, breathing the fresh air and stretching out any muscle tension in a matter of a few minutes.

Walking

It may seem simple, but getting out into the fresh air each day and getting your steps in will have you in happier spirits, and promote better heart health overall, as long as you get down to it. Walking elevates the heart rate at a steady pace, lowers blood sugar, reduces joint pain and helps with overall mental health too, according to American Senior Communities. To make sure you’re walking safely, be sure there is adequate lighting on your pathway, let someone know that you’re going out for a walk (especially if you aren’t taking your phone along!), monitor how you’re feeling throughout the journey and avoid hot temperatures around the middle of the day and early evening. Once you get home, make sure to drink a tall glass of water to stay hydrated, and get out there tomorrow and do it again!

Yoga and Gentle Stretching

Find an open space indoors (or outdoors, if you have access to one!) where you can spread out a soft yoga mat or a few beach towels and get in a few stretches. If you’ve never practiced yoga before, starting with a few stretches each day can help your body get used to the movements, the pace and the act of using your breath as a form of meditation throughout. You can find informative, helpful videos on YouTube if you’re not attending a class (make sure they mention “beginner” or “gentle”!) and use the time of quiet gentle stretching to get in tune with your body. According to AARP, practicing yoga as an older adult can help reduce hypertension, strengthen bones, protect your joints, reduce anxiety and help improve strength and balance. Make sure to keep the knees softly bent and take your time through each and every movement.

Swimming

Now that the temperatures are back up, there’s no need to worry about your hair freezing on the way back to home or to your car. Find a new favorite bathing suit and get yourself in the pool. The weightlessness the water offers will not only help take pressure off of your joints, it will also help strengthen them as you paddle, kick and balance during your swimming session. For an additional challenge, use water weights to really strengthen the muscles, and get in a few paddles back and forth in the lap pool. According to the CDC, swimming as an exercise can also significantly help those with chronic illnesses. Those with arthritis will notice the little to no impact on their joints, and other participants will notice strengthening, a better sense of balance and more as the activity is continued.

woman putting together a puzzle
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Staying Mentally Fit

Mental activity is also vital as we age, with more emphasis put on memory retention and learning new things. According to the National Institute of Health’s National Institute on Aging, cognitive health is incredibly important to overall brain health, and can positively impact motor skills, emotional functions and sensory functions. Here are a handful of ways to keep your brain busy and healthy when you’re enjoying the air conditioning indoors.

Word Games

Getting the newspaper will bring a word game right to your door with the daily crossword, but you can also try a few more with easily accessible workbooks available at local bookstores. Other word games include word searches, Scrabble and more. If you want to play virtually, search through the App Store on your mobile device. There are plenty of free ways to play your favorite games, and keep your mind sharp for the days to come.

Puzzles

Your brain wants to work to put together the photo, piece of art or graphic that the puzzle is intended to be, and pairing the pieces together in a variety of ways will help keep you sharp even with as little as 30 minutes a day. Fine motor skills are needed to put all of those tiny pieces together too. Studies have shown that continuing to practice the problem-solving skills and spatial awareness of puzzles can also help delay Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Card Games

With a 52-card deck, there aren’t many card games you can’t play. Keeping track of the numbers, pace and rules of the game will help with your memory and keep you on your toes, but if you’re looking to play solo, there are options too! Learn to play Solitaire, or find a digital application that can give you plenty of variations on the age-old game. You’ll be passing the time and keeping your mind sharp with as little as 15 minutes a day.

Art

You don’t have to be a talented artist to create something that helps improve your motor skills and sharpen your mind. Get your hands on some colorful paint and a canvas to create your own masterpiece, or follow online guides on how to create a new kind of art you’ve never tried before, like knitting, embroidery, origami, coloring, sculpting, photography and more. Plus, if you don’t want to keep it, you can give it away to your children, grandchildren or friends. Not only will working on the art help keep your mind occupied, it will also help different parts of your brain work together to create a cohesive piece. Choose your favorite colors. Sew your favorite patterns. Challenge yourself to create something you never have before.

Reading and Writing

It may sound like you’re heading back to school by stressing the importance of reading and writing, but in order to retain it, you have to use it! One of the best ways to get back to writing is to write about some of your favorite memories, or write letters to nearby or faraway friends. Not only will you get the practice of handwriting (or typing) the note, you’ll also be able to let someone you love know that you’re thinking of them! As for reading, it goes without saying that reading for at least 30 minutes each day can improve your ability to think clearly, boosts your vocabulary (which is always growing, no matter how old you are!) and helps you escape into another world when you need to.

This post originally appeared in our May 2020 print issue. For more senior living stories, subscribe to our monthly newsletter.

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