Never too old to play

Jun 18, 2012

Active seniors live happier, healthier lives.

The National Council on Aging and the Administration on Aging recently announced May is Older Americans Month. The goal of the month-long campaign is to encourage older adults and retirees to stay healthy and economically secure with healthy tips, financial advice and best practices for a happy lifestyle.

The theme of Older Americans Month in 2012 is Never Too Old To Play, which aims to promote active and engaged lifestyle choices in senior citizens as they continue to play important roles in their families and communities. The campaign focuses on active aging as well as sound financial choices such as investing in life insurance, annuities and other products to secure a comfortable retirement income.

Older Americans Month was first launched in 1963 in an effort to join communities across the country to celebrate senior citizens and demonstrate the commitment to recognizing contributions and achievements made in the senior community. This year, the AOA is teaming up with the Administration on Aging to provide information, resources and tools to help seniors stay active once they retire. The organizations are planning and promote events and activities to honor older Americans in communities across the country all month long. For example, some community centers and senior residential facilities are hosting game nights or scavenger hunts to foster an intergenerational experience that is fun, interactive and most importantly active.

The National Council on Aging has branches all over the United States that are launching programs and helping other organizations follow suit. The cost-effective programs allow seniors to stay healthy and independent and include job training and placement, health promotion and disease prevention, nutrition programs, caregiver support and activities based in senior centers.

"It's true that you're never too old to play, but good health and economic security are critical to making that a reality for today's seniors," said Jim Firman, president and CEO of NCOA. "I encourage all older adults to find out what programs and services are available to help them stay active and engaged, so they can keep on playing."

In Wichita, Kansas, for example, a senior employment program was launched to help seniors find full- or part-time positions, while also introducing participants to new technology, people skills and customer service techniques to make them attractive to potential employers. The extra money they could make with part-time work can be used for wellness and active programs to keep them mentally and physically focused. Life insurance funds can also be used to pay for additional wellness efforts in retirement not typically covered by health insurance.

In Seattle, Washington, the Sea Mar community health centers are partnering with six senior centers in King County to help Latino seniors engage in nutrition and socialization activities to help participants become more involved in their community. The Manchester health department in Connecticut is sponsoring a life strong, moving for better balance initiative presented by physical therapists. The free exercise program works to improve the endurance, strength, balance and flexibility of vulnerable seniors in the community to improve their overall wellness.

According to Health News Digest, seniors are living longer, making it more important for them to stay fit so they can enjoy their golden years. Embarking in physical activity each day can help guard seniors against common causes of death such as heart disease, cancer and stroke. Regular physical activity can reduce the risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of diabetes, colon and breast cancer. Remaining active can also strengthen bones and muscles to make daily activities easier and more enjoyable, maintain sharp thinking, learning and judgment skills, as well as maintain a healthy weight so they can live and independently as possible.

In fact, a recent study from the Mayo Clinic found combining mentally stimulating activities with moderate exercise can decrease an individual's odds of experiencing memory loss. Showing better results than practicing mental or physical exercises alone, the study showed adding computer activities to physical activities can protect brain function in seniors to maintain high functionality when cognition typically declines for most adults.

In the study, 926 people between 70 and 93 years old completed a self-reported questionnaire on physical exercise and computer use. For the study, physical activity included exercises such as yoga, hiking, swimming and walking, while mentally stimulating activities included reading, computer use, artistic endeavors and playing games. Computer use was found to be the most popular mental activity.

The goal of the study was to uncover best practices for seniors looking to preserve their cognitive abilities when the rate of dementia is increasing rapidly worldwide. The researchers examined how physical and mental activity relates to aging and dementia, and what ways individuals can adjust their lifestyles to age in a healthy, happy way.

The researchers examined exercise, computer use and the relationship of each to neurological risks such as mild cognitive impairment or dementia. Mild cognitive impairment is the intermediate stage that occurs after normal memory loss and before the onset of dementia-like symptoms.

Of the participants who did not participate in daily physical activity or use a computer, 20.1 percent were cognitively normal and 37.6 percent showed signs of mild cognitive impairment. With regard to patients who both exercised and used a computer regularly, 36 percent were cognitively normal at the end of the study and 18.3 percent showed signs of mild cognitive impairment.

U.S. News & World Report recently identified different ways individuals can add healthy physical activity into their daily routines to enjoy a more comfortable and satisfying life through retirement. It is best to start developing healthy lifestyle choices and get into a habit of exercising on a regularly basis before retirement hits.

Individuals in their 20s should build a fitness base and start setting goals while pushing themselves. For people in their 30s, exercises should start to varying so as not to become boring or redundant. People in their 40s should work to maintain a healthy body weight while preserving their strength as they approach retirement age, while people in their 50s should protect their heart and core so any upcoming conditions or symptoms are easier to manage and take care of. When individuals reach their 60s they should work on preventative wellness to ward off chronic conditions and maintain an active lifestyle, U.S. News and World Report said.

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