This holiday season, seniors and aging adults are urged to stay active in order to enjoy good health during this year’s festivities. While nonagenarians, a person whose age is in the nineties, may not be able to go “dashing through the snow” as fast as they did in their youth, they can make an effort to see friends, do volunteer work, play a rousing game of Scrabble or even knit holiday sweaters for their nieces and nephews. Extra servings of pumpkin pie, however, are best avoided.
Each of those actions during the festive season can lead to a better quality of life for seniors, according to studies of elders in Okinawa, which boasts more centenarians per 100,000 people than anywhere else on Earth. To ensure older adults throughout North America can benefit from the findings of these studies, Americans should observe the five components of healthy longevity identified among the Okinawans:
Taking a walk after a hearty holiday meal is a good idea for those of any age, but it is particularly beneficial to seniors. Even aging adults who are less ambulatory can take part in some form of exercise, whether it is lifting their feet repeatedly while seated in a sturdy chair, or raising their arms skyward several times in a row.
Comfort foods drawn from family or ethnic traditions are especially enjoyed by seniors during the holidays. However, the recipes for these dishes should be adapted to the palates and dietary needs of aging adults. Lean meats, such as turkey breast, are readily available during this time of year and serve as a healthy alternative to red meat for seniors. Also, limit the intake of sweets and desserts that accompany celebrations – except perhaps for antioxidant rich dark chocolate. Other “super foods” for seniors that are beneficial to include in holiday meals are blueberries, flax seed, carrots, eggs, nuts and salmon.
While dementia and short-term memory loss are common among seniors, mentally-stimulating activities can help them delay, or possibly even prevent, the onset of these conditions. Designing holiday festivities around skill-based games, such as Scrabble, checkers, backgammon or Boggle, not only makes the event fun for party-goers, but these activities can also help seniors maintain cognitive function. Engaging in pattern-following crafts like knitting or needlepoint also stimulates the brains of older adults in ways that can help keep them mentally fit.
Though the holiday season can bring back memories of lost loved ones, this time of year also offers numerous opportunities for seniors to engage with other people, whether through social gatherings, phone calls, email or greeting cards. Research shows that social ties keep people healthy by providing emotional support, limiting stress levels, and helping seniors maintain an irreplaceable level of independence. While group activities in family homes or senior centers can be the centerpiece of holiday celebrations, aging adults can also benefit from receiving a daily phone call or email because it helps them feel connected to those they care about.
Calmness and Purpose
For some seniors, participating in a religious service helps them maintain a calm center and focus on their life purpose, while others may prefer practices such as yoga or meditation. The holidays also offer ample opportunities for older adults to fulfill a purpose by volunteering at local organizations and nonprofits. Sharing personal stories or reading special holiday stories to younger family members and friends can also help seniors maintain a sense of connectivity to those around them.