You may not have much luck finding the fountain of youth, but studies show that one promising way to extend your life is exercise. In fact, research shows that people over 70 who incorporate up to 150 minutes of activity in their weekly schedule tend to be less disabled and recover quicker in the event of an injury.
Paired with other positive habits like a proper diet and a smoke-free lifestyle, regular activity – both physical and mental – could keep you happier and healthier well into your golden years. Luckily, exercise doesn’t have to mean 10-mile runs or an afternoon spent sweating it out to the oldies. Here is a collection of seven springtime activities and hobbies for seniors that are as beneficial as they are entertaining.
1. Socialize with friends and neighborsOver 8 million adults over 50 live in isolation, a situation the AARP says has the equivalent health risk of smoking 15 cigarettes per day. When the loss of a spouse, scattered offspring, a recent move or poor health remove people from their comfort zones, socialization is often one of the first casualties.
Look into volunteering opportunities, programs at local senior centers, continuing education classes and on-site get-togethers in your apartment complex or retirement community, and work to expand your social circle. If transportation is a concern, consider volunteer-based ride programs that help retirees get from point A to point B.
Heidi McBain, author of “Life Transitions: Personal Stories of Hope Through Life’s Most Difficult Challenges and Changes”, suggests bringing a pet into the equation. “Keeping seniors connected to others is so important, and there are so many groups out there that make this possible,” she says. “For the spring, if they have a dog, there are dog-walking groups that get together, usually a few times a week, to go on a short walk.”
2. Try your hand at water sportsYou don’t have to be Michael Phelps to get your money’s worth out of a pool-based workout. In fact, the senior living industry experts at Edgehill, a retirement community in Stamford, Connecticut, recommend swimming and water aerobics as low-impact ways to build muscle tone and strength without stressing your joints.
Water workouts rely on your own body weight, so there’s no strain or awkward movements lifting heavy weights, and the added resistance provided by the water contributes just enough intensity.
3. Make exercise fun againEdgehill’s team also backs up McBain’s advice on socializing, and suggests tying it to exercise. “To maintain your fitness and have fun this spring, enjoy some forms of exercise that don’t feel like work. For example, take a hike in nature, play fetch with your dog, plant a garden, go out dancing with a friend or enjoy a round of golf,” Edgehill staff suggest.
Consider signing up for an outdoor charity event, handing out water at a 5K run or marathon, taking your grandkids to the playground or the zoo and trying your hand at some Wii tennis or bowling — the latter burns an average of 150 calories per hour.
4. Become an amateur botanistSpring is when Mother Nature wakes up and begins infusing the world with color, so it’s the perfect time to get some fresh air and explore nearby meadows, gardens and parks.
After retiring, Dr. Katherine Wagner-Reiss launched Botanical Tours, a company that takes groups on hourlong walking tours with an emphasis on learning about the plants they encounter. She suggests collecting flowers, pressing them between the pages of heavy books and then reading up on the history of each plant.
This activity also lends itself to sharing what you’ve learned with friends — older or younger — or expanding your education to include field trips to a nature center, botanical garden or even a gardening store, where you might find more exotic plant varieties than you’d encounter in your backyard.
5. Head to the farmer’s marketAs the ice melts, crops begin to wake up and blossom, and that means the stalls at the farmer’s market will be piled high with delicious fruits and vegetables. Asparagus, apricots, butter lettuce, green beans, mushrooms, mustard greens, peas, radicchio, fennel, corn, rhubarb, Vidalia onions, strawberries and honeydew are just some of the farm-to-table goodies available across the U.S. in March, April and May.
This can be an opportunity to pick up some of your favorites produce and make a signature dish for your neighbors. Even better, take a group to the market and have a potluck where everyone can contribute and get a taste of spring.
6. Focus on functional exercises and flexibilityAfter a long winter spent cramped indoors, time in the gym seems particularly unappealing. Now’s the chance to limber up and stretch outside among the warm spring breezes and newly grown grass to get your body moving and enjoy the pleasant spring weather.
Dr. Karena Wu is the owner of ActiveCare Physical Therapy in NYC and Mumbai, and a physical therapist to the stars. She advocates for exercises that support functional motion that prepare the body for everyday tasks. “Functional exercises like squats, lunges, step-ups, push-ups, sit-ups and bridges are important, as they mimic body movements and use multiple joints and muscles,” she says.
Wu also prescribes flexibility exercises and isolated moves that strengthen individual muscles and help boost mobility. All of these maneuvers can be done outside, alone or in groups, and with little to no equipment.
7. Take a field tripTreat yourself to an infusion of culture or entertainment and watch how it brightens your week. Stop by the art or history museum, head to a baseball game, grab tickets to a concert, catch a movie at the theater, watch the dolphins frolic at the aquarium, hit the trails at a national park or see a play.
Museums often offer senior discounts based on age or AARP membership at least one day a week, as do many other venues including restaurants, so you can grab a bite to eat during your adventure.
There is a caveat to all this healthy exertion, notes Wu. “With these activities, risks involved for seniors would involve not clearing your health history before starting any exercise program, doing exercises inappropriate for your condition, overdoing exercises, not allowing for enough rest in between exercise sessions and not listening to your body if aches and pains persist,” she says.
Always check with your doctor before revving up your routine and don’t be afraid to rest. There’s plenty of spring and the entire summer left to enjoy a life in motion.
Alana Luna is a full-time freelance writer, content strategist, and social media guru based out of Las Vegas, NV. As a former professional musician and long-time volunteer, Alana has seen firsthand the power of music and healing in the senior community, and she takes a particular interest in promoting creative therapies for people of all ages.
When she's not busy whipping up content, Alana enjoys spending time with her baby daughter and heading to the kitchen to flex her culinary muscles.