Exercise improves mental health for seniors

Activity helps older adults feel better, sleep better

Exercise can improve not only the physical health of older adults, but also their mental health, said Dr. Steven Taylor, a psychiatrist at Kettering Health.

“If you’re exercising your muscles, you’re also exercising your mind and your brain,” Taylor said.

Staying active can help people feel better, sleep better and receive a booster against conditions like dementia, he said. Working out also can improve resilience and coordination, helping to prevent falls that can cause injuries that result in long recovery times.

“The big hindrance at this age is we aren’t as spry as we used to be,” Taylor said.

Older adults can find it “frustrating and humbling” to be unable to do some of the physical feats that they were once capable of. Like people of all ages, they should do what they can instead of what they ideally want to do.

Adults who haven’t been active in a while probably shouldn’t start out by running a mile, he said. Instead, walk for a half hour and see how it goes. Find out where you are at and how you feel, and use that as a gauge to set goals, he said.

Finding a time to fit in exercise and making it a habit is important. Taylor said that when he is busy, he tries to do pushups or sit ups for 10 minutes to continue his pattern of working out. Something is better than nothing, he said.

“The more routine it is, the easier it gets,” he said.

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Although people tend to exercise too little rather than too much, it is also possible for adults to overtrain both physically and mentally by doing too much, too fast and too soon. Not seeing the results they expect can be demoralizing, he said.

“It’s all about finding that balance,” Taylor said.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Although staying active can improve mental health, sometimes exercise alone isn’t enough. Feeling sad for a couple of days isn’t always a sign of a problem, but it can be a red flag if those feelings extend for a couple of weeks in a row and start to affect relationships and the ability to care for oneself, he said. In that case, it may be time to seek professional help.

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Physical and mental health go hand in hand, said Angie Millsap, wellness coordinator at Central Connections in Middletown. The recreational center has a focus on adults ages 50 and older during the day and 21 and older in the evening.

“You might look healthy, but if you’re not mentally healthy, what are you going to accomplish? What are you going to achieve?” she said.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Millsap teaches SilverSneakers classes, which are designed for older adults, and she knows that the mental health of the participants improves because they tell her so. But she also can see a difference in their glow and demeanor after a few weeks in the program.

They are happy, social and bonding with classmates. The physical activity connects them, and they know they have a friend and aren’t alone.

“They feel so much better,” she said. “I see it by the look on their face.”

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