The Science Behind Senior Living and Wellness

September 4, 2020

Many know that health and wellness for seniors is vital, but do you know the science behind it?

As children, we learn that daily exercise and activity is key to a healthy and long life, yet we also know how hard it is to consistently put that knowledge into practice as we get older. If daily exercise was not part of our regimen growing up, it’s not surprising that as we age, we are even less likely to make exercise a priority. But the science behind exercise’s comprehensive brain, body benefits is compelling.

Here are some facts, published by The National Institute on Aging:

  • Inactivity is more to blame for physical declines as we age than aging itself or genetic factors
  • Lack of physical activity leads to more visits to the doctor, more hospitalizations, and more use of medicine for a variety of illness
  • Thirty minutes of movement a day will keep a body stronger than no movement at all
  • Gentle exercise can improve energy and reduce fatigue
  • Certain exercise improves balance and stability, lowering the risk of falls and injuries from falls
  • Exercise actually improves the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep, a vital part of allowing the body to heal
  • Seniors who live alone are less likely to make exercise a priority
  • Exercising together enables socialization and provides the motivation to try something new

A recent study by National Council on Biotech Information showed the comprehensive benefits that exercise has for seniors’ bodies and brains, and found that most are not getting the recommended amount of physical activity. Seniors who may not already have an engrained physical regimen will likely find the breadth of wellness options at a senior living community – and the social opportunities that come with it – a motivating factor to increase their activity levels.

While COVID-19 has curtailed in-person classes in most places across the United States, many senior living communities have added live online or recorded classes to their offerings, and are beginning to slowly phase in physically distanced, small group and outdoor classes.

According to the Journal of American Medical Association, older adults who may already be experiencing natural loss of muscle mass and a need for functional fitness or cardiovascular training may not even know where to start when it comes to exercise. Procrastination is the number one reason older adults tend to focus on other health issues and ignore the need to make fitness, exercise, and healthy nutrition a part of their daily routine.

Wellness is more than a workout

Asbury Communities’ senior living campuses have made health and wellness the central component of their lifestyle and services, ensuring that they are offering multi-dimensional programs that speak to physical, but also to emotional, intellectual, vocational, and spiritual wellness.

At Asbury, new residents take part in a welcome program which pairs them up with an existing resident who connects them with people, events, and clubs that address their interests. Newcomers also participate in a “wellness profile” that surveys their interests and skills and measures their physical and mental well-being.

“No matter your age, the best exercise for you is the one you enjoy the most,” explains Dennis Poremski, Director of Wellness at Asbury’s waterfront Maryland community, Asbury Solomons. “After all, if you don’t like your workout, you won’t stick with it for more than a few days. That’s why we plan an abundance of choice, with events and opportunities that address residents’ specific interests. From higher-energy aquatic and fitness classes to relaxed bird-watching walks or local hikes, movement of any kind is beneficial. We need to be able to serve those with physical limitations or common conditions such as arthritis, and we absolutely factor that into our offerings.”

Understanding the unique needs of health and wellness for seniors

As human bodies grow older, they naturally lose certain functions and abilities. Some are more obvious changes like speed, muscle strength, skin elasticity, even height. What cannot be physically observed on the outside is that older bodies are experiencing natural losses of muscle tone and bone density, stiffening of blood vessels, reduced or slower function of some organs, and changes in neural chemicals. “These signs of aging are completely natural and normal to experience, and they are not set in stone,” states Justin Margut, Director of Wellness at Asbury’s Pennsylvania-based community Bethany Village. “The good news is that they can be mitigated with routine changes to activity and diet. People are amazed to see what they can gain back with a plan that includes daily walks supplemented with a few classes or workouts focusing on balance and strength each week.”

Understanding how to tailor wellness to seniors and address all aspects of wellness is something that continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) like Asbury excel in, according to The Age Well Study, a five-year initiative from Mather Institute on Aging and Northwestern University that is studying the wellness impact of living at a CCRC. During the first year of the Age Well Study, researchers found that among the more than 600 seniors participating, 69% reported “somewhat or greatly improved” social wellness. Overall, CCRC residents reported greater social, physical, intellectual, and vocational wellness; higher levels of physical activity; and better nutrition than non-continuing care retirement community residents.

The best anti-aging medicine is an active lifestyle

When you picture anti-aging tools, you may be seeing cabinets full of bottles and creams. The truth is that the best method of anti-aging is a healthy, active lifestyle. Here are five easy and fundamental ways to focus on fitness that are integral to the Asbury lifestyle.

  1. Set a time every day for 30 minutes of movement exercise. A recent study by Mayo Clinic has shown that regular moderate physical activity can help maintain a healthy weight and lower the risk of heart disease. In the same way that athletes train their bodies with exercises meant to replicate movements in their respective sports, functional fitness from seniors comes from the idea that people need to keep moving in the ways that are needed to remain strong and functional in their daily lives. This means that simple standing, sitting, and stretching exercises regularly can help optimize functional movement for seniors.
  2. Add some form of aerobic exercise to your weekly routine. Outside of physical strength, researchers in psychology and neuroscience have found that routine cardio-respiratory exercise like aerobics helps mental fitness as well. Asbury communities feature a wide range of classes for all fitness levels that also factor in conditions like arthritis or Parkinson’s disease. From water aerobics and cardio training to seated strength and chair yoga, Asbury’s wellness teams understand that physical movement stimulates the growth of new brain cells and keep current cells firing on all cylinders. Mayo Clinic and JAMA both agree that engaging in physical activity with others, even to stroll a community’s walking path with a friend, decreases loneliness and stress, which provides additional psychosocial benefits. In the same way that one health concern can lead to other issues, one wellness benefit spreads to other areas.
  3. Plan your meals with nutrition to better power your body. Food is the battery that runs our body’s engine. Finding the right food for the right time of day and the right nutritional purpose is key. One example is finding foods that boost the immune system and fend off infections. As people age, their bodies are unable to produce as many white blood cells and antibodies, which makes it harder to defend against viruses, bacteria, and germs. Regular exercise and low stress levels help in boosting immune systems for seniors as do vitamins and minerals from a balanced diet. The professional chefs at Asbury know how to create meals that taste delicious and address nutrition. In the Mather Lifeways Age Well study, residents of continuing care retirement communities were found to have better nutrition than their counterparts.
  4. Take advantage of online group classes to help stay motivated and stay active. According to McKnights Senior Living, research has shown that one of the best ways for seniors to ensure that exercise becomes part of a consistent routine is to join a group class. In the name of safety, retirement communities closed in-person classes and group activities during the pandemic, and are just beginning to slowly phase in outdoor and small-group events. However, wellness teams at Asbury’s communities quickly mobilized to record classes for their campus TV stations and began streaming live classes on other platforms. “Since mid-March, we’ve recorded hundreds of fitness classes across the Asbury organization and become experts at live video productions,” Poremski adds. “We are using email to share everything from brain games to wellness classes through our in-house web portals and channels. Providing customized programming with familiar, friendly faces also helps maintain the sense of community and social connections we all crave.”
  5. Set a timer every hour to get up and move for 5 minutes. Simple movements to start the blood flowing can be easy even if seniors suffer from physical difficulties.  Arm exercises can add strength to the core and upper body even if done from a chair. Stretching exercises that loosen and tighten the lower leg muscles can help circulate blood and improve stability.  Holding on to a chair and moving the torso side to side can help circulation and digestion. Prevention Magazine has provided a list of 30 clever ways to move every day, including forcing a trip to get up and get a glass of water by setting the glass on the other side of the room.  Simple things like this can make all the difference in a senior’s lifestyle.

Need a better way to take part in exercise, good nutrition, and socialize while feeling safe and sound? Contact us today to get the information you need for to make an informed choice. 

Contact us at RiverWoods   Contact us at Normandie Ridge

Sources:

Mayo Clinic

National Institute on Aging

National Center for Biotechnology Information

Journal of American Medical Association

Mather Institute Age Well Study

Asbury.org

National Council on Aging

McKnights Senior Living

Prevention Magazine