Getting older need not be a barrier to keeping fit and well
Senior years Being open to new challenges and keeping engaged with those around us is vital if we are to sustain our wellbeing in later life, says Caroline Abrahams, Director of Age UK.
As summer fast approaches, we can all look forward to spending more time in the great outdoors. Whether it’s gardening or walking the dog, it’s undoubtedly easier to keep active when the sun is shining.
Keeping active is not only important for our physical health, there is evidence that it's beneficial for our brain health, too. For example, recent research showed it had a significant effect on memory and the brain's ability to plan and organise.
We know that the desire to stay fit in mind and body are major concerns for older people, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you have to start spending every day at the gym. We can all increase our activity levels, whatever our age or current health status. Luckily there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to exercise and physical activity; but, where possible, it’s important to challenge yourself a little bit more over time if you can.
Our Wellbeing in Later Life Index, the first study of its kind to measure the wellbeing of the UK’s older population, tells us that, alongside physical activity, there are a number of factors which have an especially big influence in improving people's wellbeing in later life. These include having an open personality and being willing to try out new things; having a good memory and thinking skills; a good social network and lots of warm relationships around you.
The good news from our Index is that age need not be a barrier to wellbeing. No one reaches older age without acquiring some skill or passion that they could share with others. If you like football, you can help a local youth team. If you like cooking, why not volunteer in the kitchen at a local care home or social club? Volunteering helps us to connect with others; and many older volunteers tell us that it gives them a renewed sense of purpose after they have done with the world of work.
Ingredients to ageing well
Being positive and open, willing to try out new things, and engaged with what’s going on around us turns out to be incredibly important in sustaining our wellbeing as we get older. There are things we can do to make life better for individual older people, for our older population as a whole and indeed for ourselves as we age, like learning to play a musical instrument, singing or dancing. All kinds of artistic and cultural participation seem to do a lot to help.
To some extent we can all act on messages like these, but we also need to be realistic and recognise that it is a lot easier to be positive, outgoing and actively engaged if you are in good mental and physical health, financially secure, and well-supported by family and friends. At Age UK, we are taking the findings from our Wellbeing Index to help develop potential solutions for the millions of older people who are not so lucky. Life can be pretty miserable and restricted if you are an older person in this position, so we are determined to do everything we can to help. That's because we believe that everyone has the right to enjoy a rich and fulfilling later life, regardless of their personal circumstances.