Mental Health for Seniors – The Power of Exercise

Ever since he retired, my Dad has seemed down. I’m worried that he’s lonely, bored or depressed. What can I do to help him improve his mood?

Mental health issues are a serious problem for seniors. The CDC estimates that 20 percent of people over the age of 55 have a mental health concern. Worried about a parent or loved one’s mental health? One powerful tool to improve mental health is physical exercise.

Though we tend to overlook it, physical health is a very important part of life, especially as we age. Your parents may not be as strong as they once were, but they still gain benefits from regular exercise. Many of those benefits go beyond the physical.

While your parent should always check with their doctor before starting a new exercise regimen, you can be sure that once they begin, they’ll see an improvement in their mental health. Here’s how exercise can help:

Anxiety and Depression

Research has demonstrated that even moderate aerobic exercise reduces the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Your parent doesn’t have to take up a high intensity activity to release some endorphins, the feel-good hormones that boost mood. Any exercise that gets their heart pumping a bit can reduce anxiety and depression.

You can increase the benefits of exercise if you can find an activity that your parent deeply enjoys, perhaps dancing, walking through parks, swimming, etc. If they enjoy the activity, they will also be more likely to stick with it, which will help relieve them of symptoms of anxiety and depression for years to come.

Social Interaction

Exercise classes or group activities can be a great opportunity for your parent to socialize. Having stronger social bonds will help their mental health, abating feelings of isolation and loneliness. This will also relieve their stress, as they’ll have more support during tough times.

Further, exercising with others starts a positive feedback loop for many elders. When you exercise with other people, you tend to exercise longer. Never mind the overall boost in energy you experience.

Better Sleep

Poor sleep is both a symptom of mental health problems and a struggle many elderly people face, but the good news is that when you’re more active you tend to sleep better. Exercise can help you fall asleep more easily and feel well-rested when you wake.

Prevent Cognitive Decline

The brain is a muscle, albeit a unique one. Exercise has an impact on your whole body, brain included.  Researchers at Walden University found that exercise creates new brain cells, and increases the brain’s performance.

Exercise also increases the functioning of the hippocampus, which controls memory and learning. This means it can prevent or forestall memory loss.

Self Esteem and Self Confidence

After they’ve exercised, your parent will feel stress relief, growing physical strength, improved energy levels, and even increased mobility. All of this helps them feel more confident in themselves and allows them to keep participating in the activities that mean the most to them. With this self-confidence and meaningful activity, your parent will see an overall improvement in their quality of life.

Contact a Care Manager at Aging Life Network or browse our online directory of resources to find other ways to improve your loved one’s quality of life.

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