How many New Year’s resolutions have you made throughout your life? If you’re like most people, you probably have a long list of past resolutions aimed at a healthier lifestyle, which leads to healthier aging. However, some of those resolutions can be hard to keep.
Fortunately, many senior living communities offer services and amenities to help you or a loved one achieve healthier aging. This can be attained through better nutrition, increased socialization, extensive wellness and education programs and any other services you may need.
We took a look at five of 10 Tips for Healthy Aging recommended by Dartmouth-Hitchcock, a nonprofit academic health system serving northern New England, to determine how senior living communities make it easier to stay on track for healthier aging. Here’s what we found.
1. Live an Active Life
Helping residents live an active life is one of the “core components” of senior living communities, says Steve Maag, director, residential communities at LeadingAge, a national association dedicated to research, advocacy and education on aging. “Communities promote an active lifestyle, develop programs to this end and many have a lifestyle coordinator,” says Maag.
Wellness programs often include everything from simple exercise classes for cardiovascular endurance and muscle strength to yoga and other physical activities, so residents have plenty of options for staying fit. For example, Lakeview Village, a continuing care retirement community in Lenexa, Kansas, employs three full-time fitness and strengthening employees for its Living Well program.
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“In our area, the start of the new year is also the coldest time of year, so people set goals to be more active when a stroll outside isn’t appealing,” says Jackie Halbin, director of wellness at Lakeview Village, which offers group fitness classes, a state-of-the-art fitness center and an aquatics center with an indoor, heated saltwater pool.
“People want to be active, but they don’t want to feel out of place or unsure about whether a group fitness class is a good fit for them. Our residents get to be active among their peers in classes tailored to their fitness levels,” says Halbin.
2. Eat Healthy Foods
Senior living and assisted living communities generally offer three daily meals and often have 24/7 access to snacks, which can help keep that healthy diet resolution. Many offer restaurant-style menus with a variety of healthy options. Lakeview Village implements emerging dining trends into its menus and even serves up fresh, locally grown produce and sustainable seafood.
“As a chef, I want to make food that tastes great and residents enjoy eating but it’s important that we serve nutritious food as well,” says Jon Williams, director of dining services at Lakeview Village. “We have several items on our menu that fit into the Mediterranean diet, which topped U.S. News and World Report’s 2018 list of Best Overall Diets. It’s a way of eating that has been linked to heart health, a reduced risk of dementia and breast cancer and a longer life.”
3. Make Community Connections
“Research shows that social connection improves quality of life, but it can be harder to stay socially active as you age,” says Carol Cummings, senior director of Optimum Life engagement and innovation for Brookdale Senior Living Solutions. It’s also common for senior communities to offer plenty of activities and events where residents can meet new friends. For example, Brookdale offers summer cookouts, buffet luncheons, holiday parties and off-site excursions such as dancing lessons or a trip to the theater.
“One of the inherent benefits of senior living communities is the opportunity for an active social life, which residents often point to as one of the major benefits of living in a community,” says Maag.
4. Maintain Your Brain
One in 10 people age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s disease and 14 percent of people age 71 and older have some form of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. All the more reason to keep your mind sharp.
“Mentally challenging activities such as learning a new skill, adopting a new hobby or engaging in formal education may have short and long-term benefits for your brain,” according to the Alzheimer’s Association. “To keep your mind active, it is important to participate in activities that expose your mind to new topics.”
A good example of this focus on mentally challenging activities is Sunrise Senior Living, which promotes residents’ lifelong learning with book clubs, current event discussions, guest lecturers, music activities and mind-stimulating games like Scrabble, trivia and crossword puzzles.
5. Reduce Stress
Long-term stress can damage brain cells, lead to depression and cause memory loss, fatigue, and decreased ability to fight off infection, according to Dartmouth-Hitchcock. That’s why more senior living communities are implementing “whole-person” wellness programs that reduce stress with methods that go beyond physical exercise alone.
Brookdale’s Optimum Life program encompasses varying dimensions of holistic well-being, including physical, emotional, purposeful, social, spiritual and intellectual aspects of wellness to maximize its residents’ functional abilities. For example, Brookdale fitness program incorporates Tai-chi with brain-challenging movements and meditative relaxation.
In addition to wellness and exercise programs, the overall structure of senior living communities eases daily life pressures. “Many of the worries of everyday life go away,” says Maag. “You have a nice place to live, excellent food and an active lifestyle, doing things you like to do.”
About the Author: Deb Hipp is a Kansas City, Mo.-based freelance writer who covers elder and caregiving issues and has more than 20 years of experience as a journalist and writer. She is a contributing writer for A Place For Mom.