By the time we breach the grand age of 65, most of us have worked hard enough and long enough to hang up our boots and melt into retirement. But with so much extra time on our hands, and with the sudden loss of a career that gave meaning to our lives, it can be difficult filling the days with activities that are good for our mental health.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the best activities for seniors, to provide them with the recreational nourishment they need to stay happy and content.
Walking is the exercise of choice for seniors, and for good reason. It has little impact on their joints, is easy to set a pace without becoming too strenuous, and feels vitalising to be out amongst nature. Strolling through the open air of a local park, woods, or along the beach has an incredible number of benefits—it boosts your energy and your immune system, mitigates pain, enhances your creativity, restores your focus, improves your circulation, increases your bone mass, improves your sleep, and other benefits too numerous to mention1,2.
Whether ballroom dancing, line dancing, waltzing, or the salsa, dancing can be a gleeful combination of emotional expression and exercise. It’s also a great way to meet similarly-aged people, with the chance to forge invigorating new friendships, or even romantic relationships. What better way to meet a life partner than to be thrust into a dance pose with them for the first time, awkward and uncomfortable at first, but quickly softening into smiles, laughs, and a wonderful sense of connection.
As with walking, swimming is another form of exercise that is great for seniors. It has virtually zero impact on our joints, and though your heart rate climbs quickly, there’s nothing wrong with taking breaks in between laps. It’s a great way to improve your cardiovascular health, and can also improve your balance and coordination, strengthen your immune system, and help you to grow muscle mass3, making it a valuable form of exercise for active seniors.
Reading is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding things that we can do. Virtuoso storytellers are able to transport us to vivid new worlds, immersing us into the lives of artful, law-dodging pickpockets, charming bootleggers wooing beautiful women and living the American Dream, and hoary wizards who you will not pass. Or if your elderly loved one prefers fact over fiction, there’s millions of useful and entertaining books that they can absorb, on pretty much any topic that they like. Losing hours in a good book is easy.
Reading doesn’t just keep us entertained. It also helps to reactivate and strengthen our neural pathways, boosting our memories. And frequent brain exercises such as reading have shown to decrease cognitive decline for seniors by a whopping 32%,2 making it an incredibly valuable exercise, and one of the best cognitive exercises for elderly people.
Some philosophers believe art to be the highest form of human activity – a form of creativity that allows us to express the bubbling chaos inside of us, turning it into vibrant paintings, detailed drawings, novels filled with dazzling characters, or pretty much any way that we can turn our ideas into something tangible.
Producing art stimulates our imagination, enhances our problem-solving skills, and can also help to reduce our stress levels. If your elderly loved one produces something they’re truly proud of, it can do wonders for their confidence and self-esteem.5 Art can be an incredibly valuable and fun activity for seniors, and often costs little.
Lawn bowls is slow-paced, does not require much exertion, and a great way to socialise with friends, making it one of the most popular sports activities for the elderly. That’s why you tend to see so many white-clad older folks at bowls clubs, whiling away their retirement by slinging wooden balls down immaculate lawns. It’s a fantastic activity for seniors.
Smartphone technology continues to advance at breakneck speed, and one of its crowning achievements is being able to fit high-quality cameras into such small devices, allowing anyone to take beautiful pictures with ease. With smartphones, there’s never been a lower barrier of entry for photography—the perfect stepping stone for your elderly loved one to start experimenting with different shots, uploading them to social media, and getting feedback from friends and family. They could be veritable professionals within a few years.
Board and card games
Before digital technology opened up a new world of entertainment, board and card games were king. They remain an excellent source of entertainment, particularly for seniors who have been playing them for years, and have slowly made themselves masters. Challenging your elderly loved one to a game of Scrabble is risking being blown away by a seven-letter phrase that sounds entirely made up, but triumphantly glares at you from the dictionary.
Whether Scrabble, backgammon, chess, checkers, Trivial Pursuit, Uno, solitaire, bridge, rummy, or cribbage, board and card games will remain an entertaining and engaging way to pass the time for people of all ages.
Music is one of the most stirring forms of art that we can experience. It has a way of locating our emotions and yanking them forward, generating a smile, a tear, and even a sense of awe. If your elderly loved one is living in one of our cities, there’ll be plenty of concerts that they might consider attending, with the chance to spend the evening being basked in beautiful music.
Australia has a thriving theatre scene that is a rich source of entertainment for people of all ages, and can hold a particular appeal for seniors. They offer our elderly loved ones an excuse to spruce themselves up a little, have a few wines, and become immersed in a wonderful story told with skill.
Australia’s various climates has allowed grape farmers to produce a glorious array of grapes, from fleshy merlots to delicate sémillons, grown on gorgeous undulating vineyards that disappear into the hills. Many vineyards include wineries that sell their wine directly, as well as charming bars and restaurants where your elderly loved one can spend an enjoyable afternoon, or visit as part of a tour.
For all its faults, social media remains a good way to connect with people—a critical factor for the mental health of our seniors. Socially-connected seniors have much less chance of becoming lonely, with social media providing them with a way to keep in touch with their family and friends.
Netflix is the king of television streaming services, with around 170 million subscribers across the world5. With movies and shows spanning every genre you can think of, there’s plenty for seniors to enjoy, including classics such as The Crown, Our Planet, Grace & Frankie, and many more.
Jigsaw puzzles are another classic form of entertainment, popular with seniors and one of the staple nursing home activities. They’re slow-paced, relaxing, and can help to improve our memory, spatial skills, and our ability to collaborate. As well as being fun, they provide a stimulating full-brain workout, and when completed in the company of others, provide priceless social connection that helps to thwart loneliness.
If we find ourselves stuck inside on a rainy weekend, we’re no longer restricted to books, games, or what’s on the national television network. A device connected to the internet has access to 4.2 billion pages, including millions of online games, movies, TV shows, news websites, and pretty much anything that interests you. It’s the richest source of entertainment we’ve ever known, and once an older person learns how to access it, they won’t ever have to feel bored again.
The Switch is Nintendo’s replacement for the Wii—a console focused on simple games that incorporates physical movements, providing entertainment and low-level exercise. While not the most obvious choice of seniors’ games, the Switch offers uncomplicated exploration games such as Animal Crossing, mystery puzzle games like L.A. Noire, or classic games like Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, providing your elderly loved one with hours of potential fun.