Why It’s Important for Seniors to Stay Active, Social and Engaged

It's so important for seniors to stay active and engaged. Find out why a social life matters in the golden years and how to help your parents achieve it.

it's important for seniors to stay active

Needing to stay active was never a concern that Sue Zaguroli had about her parents.

Married for almost 60 years, they had a busy life together in retirement – dining out at their favorite restaurants every Wednesday and Saturday, going bowling with friends and spending time with their adult children and grandchildren.

Now, ever since her father’s death in 2017, Zaguroli worries about keeping her mother, Barbara, busy.

The 83-year-old has been less apt to take friends up on offers to go out and spends most of her time at home doing crossword puzzles.

“She did her crossword puzzle all day, every day,” says Zaguroli, a mom of one in Novi. “We thought, ‘We’ve gotta add more spice to her life to keep her going.'”

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So Zaguroli and her three siblings started suggesting activities beyond the weekly dinners they had with her and, despite some initial resistance, Barbara finally agreed to try bingo.

“Finally my brother just said, ‘OK, I’m going to go in with you and we’ll try it out. If we don’t like it, we’ll just leave.’ They went in there and oh my gosh, the bingo is pretty intense,” she laughs. “You get shushed if you’re even talking at all.”

It was a fun outing and they went again the next week.

“It’s helping her keep her mind sharp,” Zaguroli says. “It just adds a little diversity in her week.”

And it’s hopefully the start of more social activities to come.

“We have to take baby steps,” she says, adding that she and her siblings rotate who attends bingo with her each week.

“Change is not easy for an older person. They might accept the death of their spouse, but they still don’t want to deal with that change, which is living life without the other person.”

Finding the right fit

Fortunately, her mother is starting to show more interest in activities during the week.

“She wants to. It’s just a matter of finding the right fit,” Zaguroli adds.

The “right fit” is a key component to helping seniors stay active, says Kylie Gates-Barrett, the lifestyle director with Del Webb Grand Reserve, an active adult community in Grand Blanc.

She plans events and activities for the around 700 residents at Grand Reserve, which also boasts 50 resident-run groups and clubs.

Activities include water aerobics, pinochle, yoga, kayaking and more.

While the residents at Del Webb communities tend to be seeking out a more active lifestyle to begin with, there’s still sometimes some hesitancy to make new friends or try new things.

“We make sure not to pressure them,” Gates-Barrett says. “We explain and say the great thing is you can get as involved as you want to get, when you want to get involved.”

Big benefits

The benefits of an active lifestyle for seniors can’t be understated, she adds.

“Physically, of course, the benefits are so many,” she says.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, physical activity among older adults helps seniors maintain the ability to live independently, reduces the risk of dying from heart disease and other conditions, improves mental health and could reduce blood pressure.

There are plenty of health reasons to stay socially active, too.

The CDC reports that being involved with others is “strongly associated” with better brain function, and that learning a new activity can be protective against memory loss among seniors.

One activity many seniors are enjoying is mahjong, a tile-based game developed in China.

“It’s definitely exercising your brain,” Gates-Barrett says. “Research will show over and over again how good that is.”

Peers and community-building

Just being around similar-aged peers can have a positive effect, sometimes filling a need that adult children or grandchildren can’t meet.

“That seems to be a huge benefit because they have other people going through the same types of things,” she notes. “There are certain aspects that even the grandkids don’t necessarily understand.”

That’s why her community recently launched support groups on various topics, including a caregivers group, grief support group and a social singles group.

Though many seniors don’t live in adult communities with built-in programming, it’s helpful for any senior to establish a support system outside their family – often by making friends at senior centers or senior programs offered by their city.

“It really helps with battling loneliness,” she says. “That’s one of the biggest things that people fear.”

‘It keeps them young’

Another major benefit, of course, is the most simple one: fun. Whether seniors are enjoying a Thanksgiving feast together or trying out water volleyball for the first time, the laughs and smiles are contagious.

“It keeps them young, absolutely,” Gates-Barrett says. “We’ve got an environment where they’re thinking, they’re playing games, they’ve got friends that they can do it with. It’s fun. It’s a light atmosphere. Sometimes it feels like extended family.”

Adult children who are seeking out activities for their aging parent or parents can look into senior citizen centers, retirement communities and local recreation facilities to find programming that could be a good fit.

Focus on your parents’ interests and staying within their comfort zone – some seniors love holiday-themed dances, for example, while others would prefer a movie night at the theater.

“I really work hard to play to their talents,” Gates-Barrett adds. “I try to find a way to connect them to somebody else who loves (what they love).”

While it can be a challenge to find the right activities, it’s well worth the effort. After all, as Zaguroli explains about her mother, “we want her to be happy.”

“They gave us such a great life,” she says of her parents. “We have to do it in return.”

Jessica Schrader is Metro Parent’s managing editor.

Ways to Socially Engage

There are many opportunities for senior citizens to get more physically and socially engaged in their communities.

If transportation is a concern, be sure to check whether your city, township or county offers a transportation service for seniors. Many local communities do, providing a simple and affordable way for seniors to get to and from doctor’s appointments, shopping, senior programs and more.

For tips on what seniors can do to stay active, consider these ideas from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Take a class at a local college.
  • Play a sport.
  • Spend time outdoors walking, hiking or bird-watching.
  • Join a choir or band or take private music lessons in an instrument you want to learn.
  • Get involved in a local church, temple or other religious organization.
  • Join or start a book club.
  • Volunteer for an organization you believe in.
  • Register for a fitness class at a gym.
  • Find a social group that fits your hobbies or interests.
  • Get creative with an art class or a themed-dining club.

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