Blustery cold winters can keep many older adults stuck indoors, inactive and isolated—putting their mental and physical health at risk of dramatically declining.
In fact, social isolation and persistent loneliness are associated with an increased risk of mortality.
“We hear a lot about the challenges of social isolation and loneliness, that it can increase the rate of physical and mental health issues, but connection helps to alleviate a lot of those concerns,” said Claire Irwin, Age Well Live Well coordinator at Texas Health and Human Services. “Social engagement and connection have been shown to improve a person’s health and sense of well-being. People that are engaged and connected have greater mobility, are more likely to stay current on health screenings, have better cognitive health and are more likely to live longer.”
While that should be motivation enough to drop the fuzzy blanket, turn off the TV and get moving, that’s not always the case. Caregivers can help by providing a little guidance and inspiration on how to create a healthy lifestyle routine.
Caregivers can help seniors stay socially connected
“Make a plan for the winter months ahead,” Irwin said.
And base that plan on activities that interest them, or else they won’t be inclined to do them. Irwin offered these suggestions for staying socially connected:
- Schedule a routine phone call, video conference or game night with family and friends.
- Explore a new hobby, such as scrapbooking or indoor gardening.
- Take an online, lifelong learning class sponsored by a community college or local high school district.
- Participate in a virtual book club or program hosted by the local library. Libraries publish monthly calendars of events on their websites.
- Volunteer! Lend your time and talents to a civic or nonprofit cause that’s meaningful to you.
Once the plan is made, consider any barriers to following through with it, such as faulty internet connections, and who can help you remove those barriers. If there’s an activity you don’t like, drop it and try something new. Keep trying until you find the right fit.
“One of the bright spots to come out of the pandemic is that there are now so many ways to connect people and stay active without leaving your home,” said Mary Staackmann, director of lifelong learning at North Shore Senior Center in suburban Chicago. “A person can stay at home and attend lectures, participate in discussion groups and take part in an exercise class.”
Exercise routines keep seniors active in winter
With quite a few senior-based exercise routines available on YouTube, it’s easy to stay fit at home. Katie Morgan, fitness and wellness program manager at NSSC said Justin Agustin’s exercise routines for beginners are exceptionally good for older adults and don’t require equipment in order to do them.
Agustin stands out from other online trainers, Morgan said, because he provides modifications to make exercises easier or harder based on an individual’s fitness level and injuries, which could worsen if an exercise isn’t properly executed.
“Find three or four good solid exercises you like to do – simple squats, push-ups against a wall, lunges and bicep curls – and complete those a few times a day,” Morgan said. “Start with one round of 10 repetitions for each exercise. As they become easier and you become more confident, add two more repetitions.” Keep adding repetitions until you’re able to do two sets of 10 repetitions for each exercise.
“Starting small makes it more manageable,” she said. “If you jump right in and do too much at once, it becomes demotivating.”
THHS recommends older adults get 30 minutes a day of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as brisk walking around the house) at least five days a week, and partake in muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week. Exercises can be broken up throughout the day. If it’s easier to take two 15-minute walks than one 30-minute walk, then do that. The benefits of exercise are worth it:
- Reduced risk of developing chronic diseases
- Improved cardiovascular system
- Reduced stress
- Increased weight loss or maintained desired weight
- Improved energy levels
- Improved sleep patterns
- Improved overall sense of well-being
A healthy diet is another part of a healthy lifestyle this winter. THHS offers these guidelines for maintaining a balanced diet:
- Select lean cuts of meats and poultry.
- Choose protein-rich foods, such as beans and fish.
- Obtain most of your fats from fish and nuts.
- Drink plenty of water every day.
- Get plenty of calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12.
Anything that inspires your older adult to drop the fuzzy blanket and get off the couch is worth doing. Encourage them to take time to connect socially, be active, eat healthy and engage in activities that challenge their brain. It will brighten the long, gray days of winter and stave off loneliness and isolation.