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The secrets to staying active at any age

Older lady working in kitchen

It is no secret that staying active is vital to healthy ageing. Research studies around the world have shown tha

t being physically and mentally active not only builds heart health, mobility and bone strength, but also improves mood and fends off depression.

However finding a good mix of activities is no exact science, and choosing the right activities can be the crucial difference between keeping it up or giving it up.

If you are looking for a way to keep yourself or your loved one active (and out of trouble!), the best strategy is to feed into existing passions and interests.

“Having more spare time as a senior is a great opportunity to grow and develop passions,” says Loretta, Activities Director at Harvest at Fowler. “I plan our activities calendar around the interests of each resident, and at the moment we have many people who especially like singing and music. There is also a lot of interest in current affairs at the moment, so we have some lively debates!”

According to Health Victoria, activities should be meaningful and purposeful, not just a diversion. It can help to tap into a former career, or volunteering role and to also explore cultural traditions. As individuals we want to stay relevant, and an activity can help someone continue to contribute their skills in a meaningful way. An ex-journalist could lend a hand editing someone’s writing; a handyman could volunteer to help neighbors with small jobs; a musician could share songs with friends or grandchildren.

Skills and comfort

While learning a new skill can be a wonderful thing, it is also important to take into account the abilities of different people as they age. If someone feels they are unable to do something and it is all too hard, the temptation to give up becomes higher. It is particularly important for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s to avoid feeling stressed by an activity.

“I always look at each resident’s cognitive abilities and shape our program around them,” says Loretta. “For those who are keen and capable I might do an art project, or set up some games or challenging puzzles – and for those with less cognitive ability we have picture books and large object puzzles. Activities should be fun and not frustrating.”

Ability should not get in the way of doing physical activity. “Physical activity is a must, and no matter where you’re at there is something for you to try,” says Loretta. At Harvest at Fowler, ‘sittercise’ on chairs has become one of the most popular activities and residents love moving to music.

Look and feel

Being inspired by your physical surroundings can be an important factor in finding and sticking to an activity. If you see a piano every day or walk past a raised garden bed, you are more likely to sit down and have a play or get your hands dirty with some gardening.

Health Victoria also recommend changing your environment to promote sensory stimulation. This involves having less background noise of TVs, and more lighting, flowers, décor, and access to gardens and sunshine. Tactile elements such as rugs and throws are great to stimulate touch and feel, and it is important to encourage activities that help people take care of their appearance such as putting on jewellery or getting a manicure.

“The beautiful greenery and flowers in our garden really encourage our residents to go walking regularly,” says Loretta.  Being outside, picking flowers and creating flower arrangements give them a real sense of pleasure and purpose – and it means Harvest looks and smells beautiful!”