Isolation can affect our health and well-being. Try these six tips for staying active and connected.
- Posted on Sep 7, 2017
Loneliness can sneak up as you grow older, especially if you lose your spouse, as Lynne Nichols did. In a 2012 study, 43 percent of people over 60 reported feeling lonely. That study and others have shown that lonely or socially isolated seniors are at a greater risk for functional decline, memory loss, stroke and heart disease. We asked recreational therapist Denise Leonhardt, life enrichment and wellness director at the Good Samaritan Society in Waconia, Minnesota, for tips on active aging and preventing loneliness.
Get involved. Bible study, fitness classes, choir, game nights, garden club…the type of activity, as long as you enjoy it, isn’t what matters most. “It’s more about the social interaction, which alleviates loneliness,” says Leonhardt. “All of our programs bring people to a common area so they can meet and befriend others.”
Keep learning. “Step out of your comfort zone and try something new,” Leonhardt suggests. “Learning builds new brain cells and keeps your mind young.” Take community education classes at local school districts, senior centers or the Y. Some colleges even let senior citizens sit in on classes for free.
Exercise your creativity. The 2006 Creativity and Aging Study found that seniors who participated in arts programs (such as painting, jewelry making and singing) had better physical and mental health and more involvement in overall activities than those who didn’t take part. Leonhardt saw positive results among folks who took a 10-week storytelling course. “At first, only two people got up and shared their stories,” she says. “By the end, everyone was doing it!”
Connect with a younger generation. Intergenerational programs benefit everyone—kids get attention and mentorship, while seniors find connection and new purpose. Check with schools, libraries and community centers for opportunities.
Explore your community. “Bus trips are a great way to meet people, especially if you’ve moved to be closer to your kids and are new to the area,” Leonhardt says. See what local parks and recreation departments have to offer.
Do something for someone else. Whether it’s a craft you’re giving as a gift, ongoing volunteer work or a service project such as making holiday care packages for deployed military, “you’ll get a feeling of satisfaction from knowing you’re helping others,” Leonhardt says.