Improving the Wellbeing of Older Adults
From our doctors to family members to celebrities, we constantly hear about the importance of exercise. And there’s no question that staying active helps us take care of our physical wellbeing. But exercise also plays an essential role in our mental health, elevating our mood, reducing stress and anxiety, and improving the quality of our sleep.
Since 1949, Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in the U.S., says the nonprofit National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, which works to promote awareness and education as well as provide support for mental health.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, our emotional, psychological, and social well-being are all part of overall mental health. But what can older adults do—in addition to exercise—to enhance their mental wellbeing? Here are some suggestions from the experts:
Care for Overall Physical Health
Getting regular checkups with a primary care physician and seeing specialists as needed keeps our bodies running optimally.
Recognize the Importance of Socialization
Interaction with others is critical to our sense of belonging and wellbeing. In fact, taking advantage of opportunities for getting together not only improves our mood but also leads to more physical and cognitive engagement via walking, playing cards, or dancing.
Make Healthy Food Choices
The fuel we use to nourish our bodies directly affects how we think, feel, and interact with others. The Mental Health Foundation states that eating regularly, staying hydrated, choosing a healthy balance of fats, and including whole grains, protein, and fruits and vegetables in our diets can help us feel better. Understanding that caffeine consumption can contribute to feelings of panic and anxiety can also be helpful, says the American Psychological Association.
Strive for a Regular Schedule of Adequate Sleep
Sleep research indicates that our time at rest provides time for the brain to cleanse and repair itself as well as process emotional information. According to the Sleep Foundation, striving to maintain good “sleep hygiene,” or a regular schedule that optimizes our opportunity for sleep, will keep us feeling more alert and aware.
Cultivate a Sense of Purpose
Psychology Today cites research showing that having a sense of “life purpose” bring a host of mental health benefits, including improved cognitive function and sense of overall wellbeing. Seniors who see meaning in their lives are less likely to suffer heart attacks, strokes, and dementia.
According to the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Geriatric Psychiatry, the aging process involves transitions that have the potential to leave us feeling vulnerable. Being aware of these life changes and how they can affect our bodies and our emotions can better prepare us to respond with resilience.
The Mayo Clinic expands on this concept of resilience, calling it “Mental Fitness,” and suggests additional ways to cultivate our mental health:
- Prioritize caring for your mental health by making time for exercise, adequate sleep, and nutrition
- Create a network of supportive friends and family members
- Learn how to bounce back from failures, thinking of the process as “brain training”
- Cultivate a sense of realistic optimism, confronting challenges rather than avoiding them
- Engage in purposeful activities rich in personal value and meaning
By being proactive, we can respond with wisdom and insight to life’s challenges, promoting healthy resilience, prioritizing our mental wellbeing, and aging well!