Senior Living Fitness Programs Benefit Cognitive Health, TooJuly 18, 2022
You may already know that staying physically fit can help lower your risk for chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and various cancers as you get older. Research indicates that certain types of cardiovascular activities, like aerobic exercise, can also benefit your brain.
When your heart rate increases during exercise, your blood flow also increases, carrying more oxygen and nutrients throughout your body — and to your brain. This can help preserve, and potentially improve, your cognitive skills and memory. It may even help prevent certain types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.
As an article by Harvard Health Publishing points out, exercising on a regular basis also reduces stress and tends to improve both sleep and mood. These benefits may also stave off cognitive decline.
On the Flip Side
The reverse is also true: Your mental health can affect your physical health.
Think about it. If you’re feeling anxious, depressed or stressed, going for a walk or engaging in some other physical activity can help you feel better, right? But if you just try to tough it out and the anxiety, depression or stress gets worse, you may find it harder to make yourself be physically active. It’s a cumulative, and circular, effect.
The ‘Whole Body’ Perspective
The medical evidence demonstrating the connections between physical, mental and emotional health continues to build. In response, more senior living communities are providing fitness programs and other activities for seniors as part of a multi-pronged, holistic approach to overall wellness.
At The Variel, our Zenergy wellness program encompasses a broad range of services that go well beyond fitness. Through Zenergy, residents of The Variel also have access to lifelong learning programs, engaging social activities and an array of other opportunities for personal fulfillment and growth.
Moving Is Good. Sitting (Too Much) Is Bad.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says regular physical activity is one of the most important things older adults can do for their health. It also reminds us that “some activity is better than none at all.”
The CDC recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity (a low impact cardio activity like brisk walking) per week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity (e.g., jogging or pickleball) per week. However, it’s important to start out slowly, especially if you’ve been relatively sedentary for a while. You can build up to longer stretches of time as your strength and stamina improve.
(It’s also a good idea to check with your doctor or another qualified health professional before starting your new fitness regimen.)
The whole point is to get moving. The CDC further advises that if you are unable to meet the recommendations because of a chronic health condition, then “be as physically active as your abilities and conditions allow.”
Bear in mind that activities such as doing household chores and gardening count!
You Can Start a Fitness Routine Right Away
Fortunately, you don’t need to buy a gym membership or expensive equipment to start reaping the benefits of increased physical activity. You can get a low impact cardio workout at home. These tips can help you get going today.
- Begin with the basics. You can start by simply walking, whether you walk around the block, on a neighborhood walking path or trail, or in a nearby shopping mall. If you don’t already have shoes that provide good support, consider investing in a pair that do. And if your balance isn’t quite what it used to be, a pair of walking sticks can help prevent a fall. They’re not expensive, and you can buy them online.
You’ll gain the most benefit by walking at a pace that increases your heart rate. Eventually, you’ll be able to walk faster and for a longer distance. For now, though, be careful not to push yourself too hard. Also, as you’re walking, gauge your energy level and make sure you save enough to get back home or to your car.
- Be consistent. As you get started, your muscles may get sore if you’ve been inactive for a while. You may also tire quickly. Although you might need to skip a day here and there in the beginning, the goal is to do kind of physical activity for about 30 minutes at least five days a week.
You don’t have to do the same thing every day. You may want to try a variety of activities until you find a few you enjoy. It’s much easier to stick with something you like.
- Make it a social activity. When you exercise with someone else (or others), the time will pass more quickly and it’s likely to be a more enjoyable experience. It might even be fun!
Plus, it may provide you with some much-needed motivation, especially in the early days. When you know you’re supposed to meet someone or be somewhere at a certain time, it’s not as easy to give yourself a pass.
Alternatively, you could sign up for classes at your local senior center. That way, the social factor is already built in. Who knows? You might make some new friends.
- If need be, reframe your mindset. Instead of thinking of exercise as something you “have to do,” remind yourself that you’re accomplishing a lot of good when you exercise. You’re enhancing your health, lowering your risk of developing numerous diseases, protecting your cognitive skills and memory, and more. Moreover, if you’re exercising with a friend, you’re helping them do all of those things too.
If the mere mention of the word “exercise” is enough to make you feel exhausted, then try thinking of some other ways to be more active. One common suggestion is to park farther away when you’re running errands so that you walk more. Another is to take the stairs instead of the elevator.
You can also get creative. For example, if dancing is something you enjoy, then put on some favorite music and host a solo dance party!
Moving to a Senior Living Community Makes It Even Easier
Many, but not all, retirement communities in California offer at least a regular schedule of exercise classes for their residents. The types of classes vary from one community to the next and depend on whether the community has a pool and/or a fitness facility on the premises.
Here at The Variel, residents can choose from a broad range of classes or work out on their own in the new Zenergy wellness gym, which features state-of-the-art equipment. We also have a yoga studio and a sparkling new indoor swimming pool for water aerobics classes and personal use. Our trainers are all certified to provide senior wellness instruction, and they’re happy to create personalized fitness plans for residents who want them.
As you can see, living at The Variel could make it considerably easier to enhance your wellness. Everything you need — and a whole lot more — is right here, mere steps away from where your new home would be.