What is Senior Wellness?
Senior wellness is living your life to the fullest regardless of your age in numbers. Although physical activity is an important aspect, according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA) there are actually six components to senior wellness:
- Physical wellness
- Social wellness
- Emotional wellness
- Intellectual Wellness
- Spiritual wellness
- Vocational wellness
Physical wellness is first on the list because moving is the most vital aspect of your overall wellness. Indeed, the biggest threat to seniors is lack of activity; a full 73% of seniors aged 65 to 74 stated they have no regular exercise and 81% of those over 75 years old report the same.
In the same survey, the other main threats to senior health all tie directly to a lack of physical activity:
- 61% reported an unhealthy weight
- 33% reported falling each year
- 15% to 20% had clinically significant depression
As a senior that means you should put daily activity on the top of your list and weave the other wellness components into your life on a regular basis. Your activity doesn't have to be strenuous but it should focus on four key areas: balance, flexibility, strength training, and low impact aerobics (endurance). For example, if you exercise in a class or group environment you can socialize while you work out, and the two together boosts your emotional wellness and stimulates your intellect.
Benefits of Wellness
The biggest benefit of wellness is the difference you'll feel in your quality of life. The old adage "use it or lose it" is true, and the more you move the better you'll feel. Here are some of the improvements you'll enjoy once you make physical activity a part of your daily routine:
- Improvements in levels of exercise
- Less fatigue
- Better general health
- Better balance
In other words once you start to feel better you'll feel like doing more and the benefits will start to snowball: you'll feel less depressed, be more inclined to socialize, be more cognizant, and enjoy life more. When you exercise your brain releases endorphins, which are mood-boosting chemicals. Endorphins not only combat depression, they also improve the blood flow to the brain. Improved blood flow boosts your cognitive functioning and improves your mental capacity, which gives you the motivation to exercise more and continue to build your strength and endurance.
Because you'll feel better both physically and mentally when you exercise regularly it won't take long before you start seeing other benefits. The primary benefit will be weight loss, which is crucial to managing and improving most chronic conditions. Because your balance will improve and you'll have more energy you'll be able to go more places, do more things, and socialize more often.
Staying Active as a Senior
Staying active doesn't mean you have to run a marathon. As a senior you should concentrate on the four key areas of activity that are proven to be the most beneficial, and if you have limitations you can customize each activity to meet your individual needs. Although you should try to do some of each daily, there are some types of exercise that fit into more than once category. For example, a strength activity may also improve balance and an endurance exercise may also build strength. Here are the four key areas of activity you should work on:
Balance: balance exercises are crucial to seniors because better balance means you're less likely to suffer a fall. Here are some examples of balance exercises:
- Tai Chi
- Heel-to-toe walking
- Standing on one foot
Flexibility: flexibility exercises do just that—they stretch your muscles and help you stay limber. The more flexible you are the more you'll be able to do everyday activities as well as other exercises. Here are some examples of flexibility exercises:
- Shoulder stretches
- Upper arm stretches
- Calf stretches
Strength training: strength exercises improve your muscles, which makes you more able to do your daily activities. Strength training builds lean muscles and boosts your metabolism, which in turn burns calories and help you lose weight. It also tones and tightens your muscles, builds bone density, and helps you sleep better. Also so known as resistance training, strength training examples are:
- Using a resistance band to stretch
- Using your body weight
- Lifting weights
Endurance training: endurance exercises increase your heart rate and breathing which in turn keeps your circulation, heart, and lungs healthy. Also called aerobics, here are examples of endurance training:
- Yard work
- Brisk walking
Each type of exercise is different and has different benefits. Your goal should be:
- Aim for 2.5 hours a week of moderate aerobic activities. Start slowly in 10 minute increments and build up to 30 minutes per day.
- Do strengthening activities two days a week.
- Do balance activities at least three days a week.
It's important to note that everyone is different and some may have limitations. If you're chair-bound you can use resistance bands and chair yoga to strengthen your legs as well as your upper body. Ask your primary care physician or physical therapist for exercise suggestions that cover each of the four key activity areas.