One major concern with maintaining health in the elderly population is getting them to stay as active and as mobile as possible. Exercises of the physical body, as well as the mind, are important to keep older adults agile and mentally sharp as they age.
How do you keep the elderly active?
- Engage in physical activities for seniors (which should be adapted to the senior’s personal ability and strength level)
- Include things to keep elderly hands busy
- Keep seniors mentally active with mind activities and mental exercises
- Add in group activities, such as shopping and day trips
- Ensure social interaction
Keeping the elderly community active is important for a healthy lifestyle. Seniors sometimes need encouragement and support, though, as the motivation to move can often fade away with age.
When we reach that point where the desire – or ability – to work out or hit the gym goes missing, we must find a new way to keep active.
Physical Activities For Seniors (Within Their Ability And Strength Level)
The goal is to get the senior moving and keep them healthy.
Generally speaking, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that, “Older adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.”
You aren’t off the hook if you can’t work out that vigorously, either.
The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, “When older adults cannot do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week (for example, 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week) because of chronic conditions, they should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow.”
You don’t have to do long bouts of exercise every day, either. The WHO says, “There are a number of ways older adults can accumulate the total of 150 minutes per week. The concept of accumulation refers to meeting the goal of 150 minutes per week by performing activities in multiple shorter bouts, of at least 10 minutes each, spread throughout the week then adding together the time spent during each of these bouts: e.g. 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity 5 times per week.”
When thinking about activities for a senior, their physical abilities and strength level must be taken into consideration. Not all activities may be suitable for them.
For example, issues like arthritis may come into play when putting together senior activities. Arthritis could prohibit the person from doing things that require fine motor skills or grip strength in their hands.
Pushing beyond their capabilities could also result in imbalance and injury.
If the senior is not physically able to fully participate in something, you can often make modifications that will allow them to take part on their own level. Some exercises can easily be modified and performed in a chair, for instance (we show some in our article on core exercises).
- Exercise programs should be gentle enough for a senior, but invigorating enough to get the circulation going and the heart rate raised. Activities like yoga and walking are typically good options for gentle exercise.
- Senior water exercise can oftentimes be less strenuous and safer than exercising on a hard surface. Swimming or pool activities limit the chance of the senior falling and injuring themselves. Senior swim classes are a great way to get the body moving while getting social interaction with others. Swimming and water activities can also be beneficial when a senior is in a rehabilitation phase for injuries.
- For those who are more agile, group cycling and aerobics classes could a great fit. The social aspect of group activities is often a great benefit for seniors, as social interaction can lower the risk of cognitive decline.
- Chair aerobics and yoga are modified versions of exercises that can be performed while seated. Seniors with difficulty balancing or standing for long periods of time can enjoy these activities with less chance of injury.
Things To Keep Elderly Hands Busy (Because Activities Keep The Brain Busy, Too)
Doing things with our hands is a huge part of keeping our minds active and connected with our bodies. When we get older and stop engaging in many of the projects we once did, we can feel more disconnected from our world.
Activities that keep seniors busy not only help them pass the time, they can also help them stay cognitively sharp and boost their confidence. Tasks do not have to be complex or challenging; basic tasks may be difficult enough.
- Domestic chores – Domestic activities like cooking and cleaning help seniors stay connected to their surroundings and their lives.
- Creating – There is a reason that craft projects are suggested as healthy activities for seniors – because creating something builds confidence. It gives us something to be proud of. A creation like a painting can be given as a gift or placed in the living space to remind the senior of a favorite place or perhaps a memory of a fun day.
- Play – No matter what age we are, we should never stop playing. Group activities and games are especially good for seniors because of the social aspect. Bingo and board games are a great group or family activity.
- Lifelong Learning Classes – Park districts, libraries, and community colleges are just a few of the places seniors can look to for enriching and inspiring courses geared toward older adults. From history courses and art classes to workshops and volunteer opportunities, getting involved in a learning community is a great boost, cognitively, emotionally, and physically.
- Sparking Joy – Which task or activity sparks joy for the senior? Engaging in a pleasant past time or project keeps the person motivated to continue the project.
While keeping hands busy, via activities like knitting or crocheting, are good for a senior’s mental acuity, they aren’t physically demanding. In other words, they won’t get the person up out of their chair and moving around.
This is where volunteering can be helpful.
Being of service to others is good for your physical health. For example, a Carnegie Mellon study found that, in adults over age 50, “Those who had volunteered at least 200 hr in the 12 months prior to baseline were less likely to develop hypertension.”
Volunteer activities, such as working on a home project via Habitat for Humanity or being a senior companion, not only keeps the person active, it helps them connect socially, which is also important as we age.
We list several ways to get involved with a volunteer organization in our article, Why Should Seniors Volunteer.
How To Keep Seniors Mentally Active
Keeping seniors active is not all about physical movement, it’s also about mental activities. Working out the brain is just as important as working out the body. When trying to stay mentally active, remember that the more senses you can engage, the better it is for your mind.
- Puzzles of any kind can exercise the mind. Putting together a jigsaw puzzle can pair hand activities with brain activities, and also keeps the motor skills finely tuned.
- Reading and writing can be a great exercise for the aging mind. Fine print books may be too small, but large print books can be just right for older eyes. Writing letters, balancing the checkbook, and even keeping shopping lists are helpful exercises for the mind.
- Playing an instrument is one of the best mind exercises for the elderly. Learning to play or tapping into the knowledge that they acquired so long ago and playing from memory is a wonderful way to activate that part of the brain. And, playing music can be therapeutic for them, as well as gratifying to play for others.
How Shopping Helps Seniors Stay Active
An early morning trip to the grocery store or local shopping mall may be just what the doctor ordered. If shopping trips are taken during the off times, there is less of a chance of the senior getting overwhelmed and frustrated with crowds of other shoppers, many of whom are typically in much more of a hurry than they are.
Another benefit of taking a weekly or bi-weekly shopping trips extends into them having the responsibility of keeping a running list (which can be a form of a mind exercise).
Seniors who no longer drive can join shopping trips through their local senior center or could arrange to go shopping with a neighbor or family member. After all, it’s not the driving that delivers the exercise, anyway!
Why Are Social Activities Important For The Elderly?
Does the senior have friends they see regularly? If not, it’s time to get them out and become social again.
The National Institute on Aging says, “Connecting with other people through social activities and community programs can keep your brain active and help you feel less isolated and more engaged with the world around you. Participating in social activities may lower the risk for some health problems and improve well-being.”
In addition, an article from the Friendship Center in California says, “People involved in regular social activities are up to 50% less likely to demonstrate cognitive decline than those who are lonely or isolated. And University of Michigan researchers found that even 10 minutes of daily social interaction can improve cognitive performance!”
A Healthy Body At Any Age
How does the body react to unhealthy foods and limited exercise? It begins to stop functioning as it should.
In order to keep the elderly active, we must make sure that they are eating properly and feeling their best. When they are consuming foods with little to no nutritional value, their energy will be low, and they won’t want to be active.
Other things may contribute to their lack of interest in being active. These can include something like physical discomfort or pain, their cognitive ability, or mental health issues, such as dementia and depression.
A regular exercise program for the mind and body can help to preserve and better their health.
How Do You Keep Elderly Parents Active?
When our parents get older, it can be a challenging time in our own lives. They raised us and cared for us and now need our help more than ever.
The emotional and stressful side of having aging parents can sometimes create unintentional distance within families, however.
Be There For Them
One way to prevent feeling distanced from them is to be present. Being actively involved in your parent’s lives helps them to remember they are loved and they matter.
Be ready to help. Tasks that seem easy to us, such as grocery shopping and doing laundry can be major events to seniors. Some tasks may be too much for them to handle on their own, especially for those that no longer drive and cannot physically get around. Your assistance can make all the difference.
Listen To Their Stories
Helping older adults feel connected in the present may mean helping them remember the past. It can be very beneficial to reminisce with them by telling stories and talking about the way you remember them.
Go through old photographs and family heirlooms from the cedar chest. Video them talking about events in their lives. You’ll be grateful to have this personal connection to their history.
Join In The Adventure
As much as routine and familiar things are important for seniors, it may be good for them to try something new.
Encouraging your parents to try a new restaurant instead of the same old diner that they love or to tray a new hobby can be beneficial for you both. It not only keeps them active, both mentally and physically, it gives you shared adventures and memories that deepen your connection to each other.