There’s no denying that health changes as people age. Everyone faces their own unique health battles and it can be tricky to balance the mind, body and soul in the later years of life. Focusing on just one can leave the other two suffering, which can have a significant impact on overall health and wellbeing.
Starts at 60 spoke with key experts when it comes to managing the mind, keeping the body in check and remaining social in retirement and beyond. We’ve also had input from members of the Starts at 60 community on how remaining active has helped them get the most out of their retirement.
Most people know that exercise and regular physical activity can do wonders for health, but knowing which exercises and workouts are best for individual needs and health restrictions can be tricky. It’s also important to know that while increasing physical activity is important, running marathons or hitting the gym with an intense workout is not expected – especially for people starting with a low fitness threshold.
“It’s important to take things slow and steady and work up to a more intense routine,” Flic Manning, founder of wellness system Corethentic, tells Starts at 60. “This safely protects the heart and lungs in particular. Starting with walking for 30 mins 3 times a week is a good starting point.
Manning, who is also a certified personal trainer, wellness coach and dance teacher, also says dance-based activities can be a great way of working the body, improving the mind and boosting social life.
Studies have shown that dancing can boost happiness and memory in older people as well as reduce joint pain and stiffness.
“Dance accesses the same area of the brain responsible for sentimental memory which means people with severe Alzheimer’s and dementia can even respond well to dance,” she says. “Dance also works the entire body and brain keeping the muscles limber, the joints strong, the spine flexible and the memory functioning.”
When it comes to keeping your bones strong and reducing the risk of falls and breaks, weight-bearing exercise is essential and could be as simple as modifying current exercises.
“You can get this from dance, but also from some weight lifting. Even carrying a 1kg weight in each hand as you go for a walk will help build and maintain bone strength,” Manning says.
The key is to find an exercise or physical activity you enjoy and that stimulates not only the body, but also the brain.
“Any activities that keep you engaged physically and mentally or emotionally will be helpful,” Manning says. “So experiment, play, investigate, get inspired and most of all, give yourself a pat on the back for doing any routine. Stick with anything for more than 21 days and you’ll see the body start to respond in the most inspiring ways.”
While keeping the physical body in check is important for overall health, some people find it difficult to focus on their mind and mental health, particularly when they reach retirement.
“For some, retirement is a chance enjoy leisurely activities and work around your own schedule. For others, it can be a change made harder without family and friends around all of the time,” Esha Oberoi, founder and CEO of Afea Care Services, tells Starts at 60. “Retirement should be a time for you to enjoy, make sure you look after your mind as well as body to keep healthy.”
Some people struggle with financial issues, while others are dealing with the loss of a loved one. In other cases, people feel a loss of purpose without work and find it difficult to fill in time. Seeking professional help is required in some cases and is nothing to be ashamed about, but rather a chance to explore this phase of your life more deeply.
Spending time each day focusing on the mind and practicing mindfulness has also proven a useful tool for many over-60s. It can help to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, while improving memory, creativity and attention.
“Mindfulness is the process of focusing your attention on the present. This is often done by focusing on breathing,” Oberoi says. “If you find distracting thoughts pop into your head, notice them, acknowledge they are there, and refocus your attention back to your breath.”
Mindfulness can be practiced with as little as 10 minutes a day and works with the person focusing on the present and not worrying about what they should be doing or where they should be going.
“Take a break and think about what is truly important to you and what will bring value to your life,” Oberoi says. “This will help you adjust less pressured way that works for you.
“You can practice mindfulness as little or as much as you wish. You might want to start with doing a couple of minutes a day in the morning before starting your day, or while undertaking your every day activities.”
It can also be practiced through journaling, breath work, art and meditation. Figuring out where to start can be difficult, but there are resources available to help over-60s start.
“If you have a smart phone or tablet, a good place to start is by using the Smiling Mind and Headspace apps which will take you through step-by-step instructions and guided mindfulness,” Oberoi says. “Ultimately, it’s just a matter of finding out what works for you, experiment and have fun with it.”
Thanks to the rising popularity of mindfulness over the past few years, there are plenty of books available on the topic and workshops and mindfulness retreats are run around the country for those who want to fully immerse themselves in the experience.
It can be difficult to find a new purpose in life in retirement and it’s easy for many over-60s to become lonely or even fall into depression in some cases. While this can leave people feeling blue, it can also have significant impact on overall health and can even increase the risk of early death.
A 2015 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found experiencing chronic loneliness was significantly associated with an increased number of doctor visits. Meanwhile, a 2012 study published in the Journal of Archives of Internal Medicine found loneliness can be a common source of distress and impaired quality life and the risk of functional decline and death increases for lonely people over the age of 60.
Other research shows that staying social has a huge impact on our health and wellbeing as we age. For example, staying active socially, despite health-related problems, may lessen the decline in wellbeing in later life, according to a study published by the American Psychological Association.
“Our results indicate that living a socially active life and prioritising social goals are associated with higher late-life satisfaction and less severe declines toward the end of life,” study author Denis Gerstorf wrote in the 2016 study.
That research found a socially engaged lifestyle involves cognitive stimulation and physical activity, which can protect against neurological and physical factors underlying cognitive decline. Researchers also discovered valuing and pursuing social goals can contribute to feelings of competence and wellbeing, while low social participation and lack of social goals are linked with lower levels of wellbeing.
The best way for people to stay social is to know the hobbies, sports, volunteering opportunities and interests that inspire them so they can replicate the camaraderie, social interactions and purpose that working life gave them for many years.
Joining clubs, community groups and other organisations in the local area is a great starting point and communities often post social opportunities in the local newspaper or online. And, while younger people turn to the internet for dating, the internet is also a source for plenty of other opportunities and a great starting point for researching social activities.
Meanwhile, members of the Starts at 60 community also offer their stories and advice for staying social.
“When I was widowed I said yes to most invitations and over the past nine years I’ve worked out what I really enjoy,” reader Wendy Phillips says. “Daily exercise at an aqua fitness group, volunteering, began a G&T Tuesday at my place to help others leave their issues behind, just a glass and everyone went home to their husbands, be the first to suggest a coffee or lunch out etc … my diary is as full as I choose to make it and life is great.”
“Staying social is super important,” Elly de Lange adds. “I attend a Crossfit gym where community is everything. I also attend a quilting group where social interaction is often more important than actually producing anything. Also catch up often with friends.”
Meanwhile, Elaine Omdahl adds: “Joining a group of like-minded folk gets us out and making friends.”