Healthy aging means maintaining the functional abilities that enable wellbeing. Functional abilities include the capacity to meet basic needs, to be mobile, to build and maintain relationships, to make decisions, and to feel like a contributing member of society.
Factors that contribute to healthy aging include exercise, diet, healthcare, having regular contact with friends and family, and doing the things we enjoy. Some of those factors are problematic during a pandemic.
The risk of acquiring COVID-19 has altered the lives of most people. Regardless of age, social distancing and staying at home can diminish the quality of a life. Finding a way to stay happy and healthy without acquiring or spreading the disease is a challenge for everyone.
Still, the risk is particularly acute for people with certain health conditions, including respiratory or heart problems, kidney disease, diabetes, obesity, and any condition that compromises the immune system. Many of those risk factors are more prevalent in elderly populations, although the coronavirus that causes the disease can harm people of all ages.
What can seniors do to meet the challenge of healthy aging during the pandemic? Doctors and other experts in aging well have suggested some answers.
Social Distancing and Exercise
Residents of senior living communities may have exercise facilities available as part of their living environment. Many communities have closed those facilities to enforce social distancing. Some may be cautiously reopened while limiting the number of people who can use the machines at any given time.
Even when exercise facilities are regularly disinfected, seniors might want to maximize their safety by exercising outside. Taking a brisk walk or riding a bicycle are exercises that avoid exposure to other people. Even working on a garden can provide the kind of physical movement that maintains muscle tone.
Inside the home, scheduling a daily time to do stretching exercises can improve flexibility and stave off joint pain. Balance exercises, such as Tai Chi, can help seniors avoid falls. Simple exercises with weights or resistance bands can strengthen muscles.
Preparing Meals at Home
Going out to lunch or dinner with friends or family is one of the pleasurable activities that people have shelved during the pandemic. Now all of us, including seniors, are more likely to be eating at home.
Diet is a key factor in healthy aging. While the ease of drive-through dining is tempting, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) recommends a low-fat, nutrient-dense diet that is more easily managed by people who prepare their own meals.
The pandemic offers an opportunity to try new recipes and, for those who do not regularly cook, to develop culinary skills. The NIA offers sample menus while ChooseMyPlate.gov offers helpful information on food planning during the pandemic.
Do the Things You Enjoy
Research shows that people who are involved in enjoyable activities live longer and healthier lives than those who do not. Some activities, such as volunteering services to a group of people, might no longer be an option during the pandemic. Others, such as reading and gardening, can be pursued in a safe setting.
An active mind is just as important to healthy aging as an active body. Using an app to learn a new language or to solve puzzles can be a fun way to keep the mind agile and active.
Social interaction is often the reason that an activity is enjoyable. Playing a card game, for example, gives seniors a chance to chat about world or local events while strategizing about the best move to make.
Technology provides opportunities to maintain social distance while continuing to do interact with others. For example, bridge players now have online options that allow them to play against each other while conversing with video and audio connections.
While the pandemic limits options, it does not eliminate all opportunities for healthy aging. Seniors who explore alternative ways to exercise, eat, and socialize will maximize their ability to maintain their wellbeing.