Everyone knows that exercise is good for your physical health, but the benefits of exercise on mental health aren’t as well known. Your mind and your body are closely linked, so when you take care of your physical health, you’re likely to see improvements in your mental and emotional state. Exercise can be especially important for senior mental health as older adults may be more vulnerable to stress, anxiety, depression, and other emotional challenges. Not only does exercise help protect your heart, joints, and muscles as you age, but it also can improve your overall sense of happiness.
Regular exercise is a key part of a healthy lifestyle for seniors. You don’t have to follow a rigorous workout schedule to reap the mental benefits of exercise. Half an hour of movement per day can bring about great results for your mind and body.
Here Are Six of the Best Mental Health Benefits of Exercise for Seniors
1. Reduced Stress and Anxiety
Stress relief is one of the most important ways that exercise improves mental health. Some amount of stress is to be expected at any stage in life, but if you don’t have healthy ways of dealing with it, the tension can build up until it takes a serious toll on your mental and physical health. Seniors are especially vulnerable to chronic stress because they’re going through so many major life transitions, but they may no longer have the outlets for support that they once had.
Exercise helps to regulate levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain that are responsible for your mood. It can reduce your levels of cortisol, one of the primary stress hormones, and it can increase endorphins, which are the chemicals responsible for lifting your mood. You might notice that you feel calmer immediately after a workout because the exercise has had a dramatic effect on your brain. When you make exercise a regular part of your routine, it can have a long-lasting effect on your mood as well.
2. Social Interaction
Loneliness is one of the most common and painful problems that affects seniors. Many older adults don’t get enough social interaction, so it’s always important to look for opportunities to socialize. Exercise can be a great way to meet people and spend quality time with friends while also boosting your physical and mental health.
Many gyms offer classes specifically for seniors, and these can be an excellent place to meet people. Working out with other people is often more enjoyable than working out alone, and the social aspect of group fitness can help you feel motivated to continue.
Even if you don’t take a group fitness class, you could go for a walk or a hike with a friend or family member. Exercise creates an opportunity to share an experience with someone else, which can help you combat feelings of loneliness or isolation.
3. Routine and Consistency
For some seniors, one of the biggest challenges in retirement is lack of structure in day-to-day life. If you don’t have specific obligations that you need to fulfill, it’s easy to let the time slip away from you. Creating a daily or weekly routine can be a good way to feel more energized and motivated, and it has a number of mental, physical, and cognitive health benefits.
Daily exercise is one of the easiest ways to start establishing a consistent routine because it’s accessible from anywhere. You can exercise by stretching or following a senior workout video at home, you could take daily walks, or you could take fitness classes at the gym or senior center. By making a goal to exercise at a specific time every day, you’ll create a sense of structure and predictability in your daily life that is incredibly valuable for your overall health.
4. Sense of Safety and Security at Home
Exercise strengthens your muscles, improves your joint health, and can help with balance and coordination. When you’re taking care of your physical health, you’re much less likely to struggle with mobility issues at home, and your risk of slipping and falling is far lower.
This can help you feel much calmer and safer at home. The peace of mind from knowing that you can safely navigate your home is priceless, and the sense of independence is one of the greatest benefits of exercise for seniors. Many older adults struggle emotionally when they need to ask for assistance at home, but exercise helps you maintain your independence and autonomy.
5. Improved Cognition
Exercise is linked to better cognitive health in older adults. According to one research review, numerous studies have found that exercise improves working memory, episodic memory, executive functioning, and attention span. Although it’s not always possible to fully prevent cognitive issues in seniors, exercise can help you maintain your cognitive health to the best of your ability.
Your cognitive functioning can have an impact on your emotional health, too. When seniors notice that their memory, verbal processing, or attention span has declined, they might start to feel anxious or depressed. Cognitive issues can make you feel lost or isolated, so keeping your mind in great working condition is key for maintaining or improving your emotional state.
6. Better Sleep
The benefits of quality sleep can’t be overstated. When you’re rested, you feel calmer, happier, and more prepared to take on challenges throughout the day. When you don’t get enough sleep, it becomes harder to cope with stress or to feel energized enough to socialize or participate in hobbies.
Regular exercise is one of the best ways to improve your sleep. It helps you fall asleep faster, get deeper sleep, and stay asleep throughout the night. Sleep is an especially common concern for older adults, so if you’ve found that you’re struggling to fall asleep and stay asleep, daily exercise may be the answer.
If you or a senior loved one has been feeling anxious, depressed, lonely, or stressed lately, incorporating exercise into the daily routine could help. A short daily walk, a few minutes of aerobics, or some stretching can make a big difference, and you can gradually increase your activity level as you adjust to the routine. When you feel physically healthy and strong, your mind will follow suit.
Sometimes, though, lifestyle changes are not all that is needed for good mental and emotional health. If you’ve been struggling with mental health symptoms for a long time, you should reach out for professional support. With a combination of mental therapy exercises and physical activity, you can be on track to restore your health and happiness so that you truly enjoy your senior years.
Blue Moon Senior Counseling provides in-home therapy for older adults. Our licensed counselors specialize in working with seniors, so they understand the unique challenges you may be facing as you age. You can contact us today to learn more about our senior counseling services or to set up a meeting with a therapist in your area.