Stay Social and Strong: Health Benefits of Retirement Communities

05/16/2017 10:13 am ET

It’s a story I hear from time to time. A resident joins one of our senior living communities who uses a wheelchair or who relies on a walker to go about a daily routine. With a wide array of exercise and healthy-living programming to choose from, and with the constructive kind of peer pressure that accompanies being part of a community, that person is encouraged to walk as much as possible. As time goes by, that resident is noticeably more mobile. It’s not the stuff of miracles. It might be residents trade wheelchairs for walkers, or walkers for canes, but they rely less on mobility-assistive devices.

That’s one of the great benefits of being a part of a senior living community. The social network you’ll discover and cultivate will gently nudge you to be more active, to eat healthier and to participate in social events. And you’ll find the programming is readily available for you when you’re ready.

Holiday Retirement

Tailor-made team sports

When you visit our communities -- and I hope you will accept our invitation to come check us out -- expect to see some variations on popular sports that you may have never seen before. You might see our residents sitting in chairs on either side of a net hitting balloons back and forth; that’s balloon volleyball, and it’s a big hit at many retirement communities.

Holiday Retirement

Or you might see residents tossing beanbags in a variation on cornhole. “Bean bag baseball” is another popular game, which finds residents sitting in the “dugout” awaiting their turn to “bat.” When they’re up, residents toss the beanbags at a board with holes labeled for singles, doubles, triples and home runs. Residents score points for “hits,” and they do a chair-bound version of rounding the bases with each successful “hit.”

The key with both our takes on volleyball and baseball is the teamwork component, which stimulates both physical activity and social belonging. Bean bag baseball, in particular, helps our residents work on their balance.

Holiday Retirement

From bases to basics

For seniors, improving balance and strength are extremely important, particularly when it comes to being able to maintain their independence. That’s why quite a few of our programs focus specifically on balance and encourage our residents to stand up and walk around. We also offer chair exercises, where seniors stretch, reach and flex their arms and legs while sitting in a chair. They also stand up and sit down in between those other exercises.

Holiday Retirement

Here, the most important thing is not to push themselves to do too much too quickly. We recommend our residents begin at a slow pace with which they are comfortable, and then build upon that incrementally over time. Slow and steady, we find, does win the race, and we really want our residents to be strong. Strengthening over time allows them to continue to improve their health and their independence.

Depending on ability, one might pursue yoga, which is a great example of an exercise routine for the mind, and is also good balance and posture. And as older adults improve and feel more confident, they will find programming can certainly keep up with them.

Strength in numbers

Not only can it take a village to help prompt better choices, but strength in numbers also means programming can keep things fresh. You might be surprised when you visit us to find our residents learning tai chi or playing active games on Nintendo Wiis, or even using more hip and emergent technologies.

Some of our residents swear by Fitbits, and use them to track their daily steps. Greta Kelsey, whom you can read about in our e-book “Active senior living: through fitness and wellness,” calls herself a Fitbit “fanatic,” and she walked more than 2,250 miles in her first year when using the tool. Did I mention she’s 86 years old? “Holiday has been a perfect place for me,” she says. “I credit living here for allowing me to walk this much.”

You might find your neighbors and friends at a senior living community -- particularly those who are early technology adopters -- informing you about new tools excitedly, and you may find yourself taking them up on their offers to share their new findings with you. What you’ll also find is that we can enlist outside help when necessary to bring our residents the newest exercise craze in a way that would be tough, and much more expensive, for those living at home.

Yoga, Zumba and whatever is next

Many seniors haven’t ever tried yoga. It certainly wasn’t nearly the same kind of craze it is now as it was when they were growing up, or when they were in their 30s and 40s. And yet many of our residents in their 70s and 80s are finding both yoga and Zumba both fun and healthy.

Our programs are tailored to seniors’ needs and abilities, and we work closely with a program called SilverSneakers. Instructors, who have trained in the SilverSneakers program, regularly come to our retirement communities, and they specialize in workout routines for seniors. (One of its slogans is “empowering active aging.”) And when our residents hear about the next big thing in exercise, meditation or other healthy living programming, we have a good track record of being able to match their interest with a trainer and a program that meets their interests.

That’s one of many benefits that comes from the power of community.

Click to download our e-book “Active Senior Living: Through Fitness and Wellness” for free and to discover ways that staying active can contribute to numerous aspects of maintaining general health as you age.

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