According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, there are approximately 40 million elderly people living within the United States. These individuals, ages 65 and older, make up roughly 13% of the American population. Today, physical and psychological conditions are plaguing this age group more than ever, and they remain the most medicated group of individuals within the country, receiving more prescriptions than other age groups. However, studies show that elderly individuals who remain physically active are not only helping safeguard their physical wellbeing, but also their mental health.
Mental Health Benefits of Staying Active
When elderly individuals stay physically active through exercise, they can benefit their physical wellbeing tremendously. For example, physical activity can significantly improve upon a preexisting physical health condition or disease. Additionally, exercising can keep joints and muscles working, helping elderly individuals remain mobile and functional for much longer. Adopting and maintaining a physically active lifestyle can help prevent issues such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and other physical health conditions. Also, elderly individuals who exercise are less likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as heart disease, colon cancer, and/or obesity. Common issues amongst the elderly, such as arthritis and accidental trips and falls, are not nearly as likely to occur if physical activity is included within a healthy lifestyle. And, as always, those elderly individuals who remain active are less likely to have to visit the doctor, be prescribed medications, or be hospitalized.
While the benefits of physical activity in the elderly can seem like a no-brainer, studies have uncovered the importance of exercising when it comes to mental health in the elderly. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 15% of adults ages 60 and older struggle with a mental health disorder. WHO also emphasizes that mental health during one’s elderly years is just as important as at any other time within their lives. Staying active is believed to be the most critical and beneficial thing that elderly individuals can do to protect their mental health and wellbeing. Doing so has proven to be effective in helping this age group combat problems with mood, as physical exercise is known to help decrease feelings of depression and anxiety. Some studies state that staying active during elderly years can be very beneficial from a cognitive standpoint, as exercise can help individuals retain memory, make plans, and uphold their independence. Also, staying active can help elderly individuals remain socially connected with others, which has proven to be extremely beneficial in helping decrease loneliness, sadness, and feelings of depression due to social isolation. With the presence of positive mental health and the benefits that come with it, elderly individuals can develop and/or maintain healthy self-esteem and self-worth, allowing them to live happier lives overall.
How the Elderly Can Stay Active – and Do So Safely
Some elderly individuals are going to be more apt to participating in more rigorous physical activities than others; however, that does not mean that there isn’t some form of exercise that all elderly individuals can partake in.
For those who are more active and physically nimble, activities such as Tai Chi, yoga, swimming, cycling, or power-walking can be highly effective physical exercises to partake in. Those elderly individuals who are not able to engage in physical activity of this kind can participate in other activities that get them up, outdoors, and moving. Some of these activities can include volunteering in the community, gardening, taking the dog for a walk, going on field trips with friends, and more. It is important to understand that when exercising, whether it is at a gym on an elliptical or walking the dog around the block, elderly individuals only require about 20-30 minutes of activity at a time.
Regardless of if an elderly individual is maintaining his or her exercise or is just starting a new exercise regimen, it is imperative to speak with a healthcare provider prior to doing so. By speaking with a professional, elderly individuals can become educated on precautions that are associated with exercise. For example, some of the most commonly provided precautions include wearing sturdy, non-slip shoes while exercising, warming up prior to a workout of any kind, and stopping any time that symptoms including dizziness, lightheadedness, or physical pain develops.
At Westend Behavioral Hospital, we specialize in treating both adults and geriatric patients who are struggling with mental health conditions including, but not limited to, depression, anxiety, PTSD, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. It is our mission to help each and every one of our patients develop and learn how to maintain a healthy mental state so that they can live the rest of their lives as happy and healthy as possible.