Older adults often struggle to maintain a social circle as they age. Loneliness is far more than an unpleasant emotion — it can lead to severe health effects that drastically reduce the overall quality of life.
One UK charity seeks to remedy the isolation individuals often experience while meeting another one of their basic needs — physical movement. Re-engage is running free yoga and exercise sessions for older adults, and the results are impressive.
The Mind-Body Connection and Re-engage’s Work
According to some experts, social isolation is as dangerous to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or becoming obese. It increases your chances of all-cause mortality. If you aren’t sick, it can contribute to disease, and if you are, you become more likely to die from your illness.
However, working the physical body can help to counteract some of these adverse health effects. For example, stretching your muscles helps to alleviate mental tension, increase your flexibility and reduce your chances of injury. The benefits multiply when you sweat with other people.
Many older adults experience loneliness when their loved ones pass away. For example, John Whittaker, 79, felt more alone than ever before when he lost his wife, Patricia, at the beginning of the pandemic. Joining the free social activity group in Newport gave him back his zest for life.
The activity group is funded by the Welsh government and takes place in local community spaces on a fortnight or monthly basis. Project manager Gavin Stewart strives to make the gatherings fun and free while allowing older adults to stay physically active.
While loneliness increases the chances of developing dementia, interacting with others can prevent cognitive decline. So can getting active in activities like dance and yoga that work the brain’s innate neuroplasticity, enabling it to form new connections and keep function sharp.
Efforts to encourage socialization and physical activity benefit society as a whole. They help reduce health care costs and provide a higher quality of life for everyone.
Benefits of Yoga and Physical Activity for Older Adults
If you’re an older adult thinking of joining such an activity group, consider the health benefits.
1. Maintain Independence
Exercise improves your balance and coordination, making you less likely to injure yourself if you fall. Broken bones can leave you hospitalized and dependent on nursing care for extended periods.
Weight-bearing activities like walking and dance increase bone density, making breakage less likely. Stretching also increases your flexibility, making it less likely that you will tear a muscle or connective tissue if you suddenly twist or turn.
2. Make Friends
Maintaining a social circle isn’t only important for staving off loneliness. Many older adults who live in isolation run an increased risk of death from accidents or illness.
Having people who care about you means you have someone with whom you can check in during crisis times — such as amid a pandemic. It also encourages you to stay active. It’s much harder to skip the gym in favor of Netflix if you know your buddy awaits you.
3. Lower Disease Risk
Heart disease remains the number one killer of men and women worldwide, and cancer carries off many older adults each year. Physical activity is one of the best preventative remedies for both diseases.
Regular cardiovascular training conditions your heart, making it pump blood more effectively. As a result, your heart rate and blood pressure drop, lowering disease risk. Researchers recently found that exercise can reduce the risk of 13 different types of cancer, including breast and prostate.
4. Ease Aches and Pains
Finally, regular movement eases many of the aches and pains associated with aging. Strengthening the muscles around your joints helps them move more comfortably, and routine exercise improves synovial fluid flow, keeping joints lubricated. Issues like low back pain can arise from muscular imbalances that activity can help to correct.
Re-engage Yoga and Exercise Sessions for Older Adults
Loneliness and lack of physical activity both contribute to adverse health outcomes among older adults. Re-engage seeks to change this with regular yoga and exercise sessions to keep this population healthier.