As we age, our bodies and minds may change in ways that we don’t like. We see these difficulties often in our clients, many of who rely on others to assist them with routine activities like driving to appointments and outings, helping them up the stairs, or even using the toilet.
Many of them feel ashamed of their weaknesses or like they’re a burden on others. They minimize their requests for help in order to not ‘annoy’ their friends and family, or simply because receiving assistance makes them feel uncomfortable.
As a result, they often end up homebound, watching hours of television every day, even though they enjoy getting outside and being physical. Recreation is just too difficult for them without relying on others.
For older adults, even the most basic of leisure activities, like going to a public park and taking a stroll, may require overcoming multiple barriers. Transportation may not be available, affordable, or accessible. Once they arrive, they may require assistance that isn’t available without the help of a caregiver. And even if they do have help, facilities, programs, trails, and more may not be accessible to those with special needs.
Leisure activities and health in older adults
The link between leisure activities, positive social relationships, and health in the elderly has been well documented. According to a 2014 study from the US National Library of Medicine:
“The narrowing of social networks may be problematic for health in older age and lessen subjective well-being, life satisfaction, and quality of life. Thus, identifying modifiable factors that may aid in more limited establishing social relationships is important: Health-promoting behaviors, such as leisure activity, may strengthen the link between social relationships and health.”
Why is recreation so important? Because it offers opportunities to gather with friends, meet new people, and develop relationships. These interactions help ward off countless problems common to older adults, such as loneliness and isolation. In addition, increased physical activity can help improve issues such as poor flexibility, weak muscles, and even depression.
The value of public parks
Urban and suburban parks provide critical space for physical and mental health promotion among older adults. In fact, research shows that people of all ages are three times more likely to achieve recommended levels of physical activity when they visit them.
Those in charge have been taking notice. According to a recent survey from NRPA, nine in 10 park and recreation agencies now dedicate facilities, amenities and programming to older adults, with 91 percent offering exercise classes, 53 percent offering group walks, and 48 percent offering volunteer and employment opportunities in recreation centers.
One example? NRPA’s Healthy Aging in Parks initiative, which encourages local park and recreation agencies to implement evidence-based arthritis intervention programs to help individuals maintain physically active lifestyles while reducing arthritic symptoms and pain.
Helping your older loved one get outdoors
Every July, municipalities across the country take part in Park and Recreation Month. In celebration, it’s the perfect time to help your older adult get outdoors. Things you can do to help include:
- Help find reliable (and affordable) transportation (Somerset County offers transit services to senior citizens and adults 18+ with disabilities)
- Find a park that offers senior-friendly exercise programs, such as Tai Chi or walking groups
- Arrange for a companion, if necessary, to help adults with limited mobility or mental impairments
- If your loved one isn’t able to make it to a park or other outdoor facility, arrange for them to spend time sitting on the porch at home or set up a bird feeder in the back yard so they can still enjoy nature and receive some much-needed mental stimulation
Locally, there are dozens of outdoor programs that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. One we especially love? Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset’s SAIL program. The Fit Body, Fit Bones series, offered at TD Bank Park, is designed to reduce the risk of fractures from osteoporosis by strengthening muscles and bones through exercise. Benefits include:
- Instruction from a certified exercise physiologist for performing strength-building exercises that focuses on balance, flexibility, strength and overall wellness
- Continual disease education from health care professionals
- Personalized attention, varied and advanced exercises
- Receive a manual of exercise
Tell us: What’s your favorite local park? Do they offer any programs specifically geared towards older adults?