Just as important as physical health is mental health in older adults. Our mental health affects how we think, feel, and cope with life’s ups and downs. What’s important to recognise is the fact that as we move through life and our circumstances change in older age, our mental health can change, too.
It’s crucial that we are proactive in our efforts to delay the onset of mental health issues in later life. In a recent interview for the New York Times – quoted in The Telegraph – Lisa Feldman Barrett, Research Professor at Boston College, suggested that older people should challenge themselves to learn and try new things on a regular basis in order to keep the brain ticking and active.
Importantly, however, whatever these “things” may be – learning chess, a new sport, a new language, or what have you – it’s crucial that you find it enjoyable, as this will make it more likely that you keep working hard at it, and thereby not become frustrated and simply give up. This is backed up by separate research from the University of Illinois, which shows that subjective wellbeing – that is, feeling satisfied with your life and experiencing few negative emotions – is associated with better health and longer life.
Other studies show that regular exercise can reverse mental decline in the over-60s. Diabetes.co.uk draws attention to a work done by the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center research team in Boston, which suggests that doing 52 hours of exercise over a six-month period – which works out at about half-an-hour of activity three times a week – can improve concentration and problem-solving. The results were also consistent in those who had dementia.
Lead author of the study Dr Joyce Gomes-Osman said: “Processing speed and executive function are among the first to go when you’re ageing. This is evidence that you can literally turn back the clock on ageing by maintaining a regular exercise regime.”
Joining a group exercise class can be a great way to start getting active, and in turn start enjoying all the other wonderful mental health benefits that come by being engaged in an active and welcoming community of like-minded people. In fact, studies have shown that exercising as part of a group is better for your physical, emotional and mental health that going it alone.