Stay Active As You Age to Stay Mentally Sharp

By American Geriatrics Society (AGS), Health in Aging Foundation

Staying active as you get older means far more than riding your bicycle around the block every evening. It involves both physically being involved in activities in your community and mentally being involved with the world around you. Being connected to your world is good for your health and mental attitude, and it can also benefit those around you.

Not sure where to start? Here are some suggestions.

  • Know what’s going on in the world. Read the newspaper. Watch the evening news. Subscribe to a weekly news magazine or read one at your local library. Being in touch with what’s going on locally, nationally, and internationally decreases feelings of isolation. Being in tune gives you something more interesting to talk about with others than the state of your bowels.
  • Get a job. Many seniors work part time not only to earn a little extra spending money but also to stay active. Love antiques? How about a part-time job in an antique store? Love books? Would working at a bookstore or library interest you? Love to do woodwork? How about hitting the weekend craft shows and hawking your wares? Job opportunities are limited only by your imagination and, contrary to what you may think, many businesses love to hire seniors because of their positive work ethic and maturity.
  • Help others out. Volunteer opportunities are unlimited, and many organizations are desperate for help. Hospitals are always in need of volunteers, and so are groups that help new citizens learn English. Many libraries have volunteer programs, and Meals on Wheels is always in need of drivers.

    Want something more exotic? How about a mission trip (not all are religiously based) to a foreign country? You’re never too old to hold babies or talk to teens in an orphanage. Many organizations offer yearly mission trips to the same area so that volunteers can make lasting connections there. Check out Medical Mission Exchange or MissionFinder for any number of organizations looking for volunteers for a week, a month, or a year, all over the world.

  • Get out and travel. Going to a new place not only gives you something to talk about but also sharpens your mind, stretches your map-reading skills, and is fun. Go on your own or with an organized group; you have no excuse for staying home when an organized tour does all the legwork for you.
  • Find a new hobby or expand an old one. Do you love to sing? How about joining the local theater group (roles exist for all ages) or a barbershop quartet, or just singing in the church choir? Do you fiddle around on guitar? How about finding some local musicians and holding a jam session, or even form a band? Build model airplanes and join a local flying group. Crochet blankets or quilt. Join a book club — or start one in your neighborhood. There may be a dozen people on your street just looking for something new to do; ask around and you may find two or three folks with interests similar to yours.
  • Be civic minded. Volunteer to man voting booths. Stump for your favorite candidate — or become a candidate yourself! Neighborhood associations are often crying for help. Don’t stay away because you don’t know anyone; most times you’ll be greeted with open arms if you offer help.
  • Use your computer. The age group that’s 55 and older has had the highest increase in computer usage. Yes, a lot of trash is on the Internet, but you can also find interesting chat rooms and instruction of all kinds; you can even take college courses online. There’s more to the computer than playing solitaire, so check out the home and garden forums, the classic car boards, or the health chat rooms and talk to interesting people without ever leaving home. Listen to TED talks on whatever subject interests you.
  • Exercise: You need to stay in shape to accomplish any of the other suggestions in this list. You can enjoy many activities with friends while getting some exercise. Grab your golf clubs and walk nine holes of golf. It’s a great way to socialize and exercise at the same time. Get a foursome and play tennis. If you want some alone time, head to the gym and get some quality personal time while you work out. People over age 55 who exercise regularly are on a fraction of the medications that sedentary patients require. With the cost of medications today, using exercise to reduce some of your medication load is a great incentive.