Your aging parents might not be able to do everything they once did, but that doesn’t mean it’s time for them to give up on mastering new skills. Physical and mental activity can improve your parents’ health and quality of life, help them live longer, and make sure they always have something interesting to do.
The CDC’s physical activity guidelines are the same for all adults, regardless of age, suggesting there’s no such thing as being too old for exercise. Even sedentary seniors can get active in their old age, possibly becoming even more fit than they were in their prime. These are some options for keeping your aging parents active at every age.
Yoga offers gentle stretching that can alleviate muscle pain, tension and stiffness. It’s a great introduction to physical activity for sedentary people. Even for the veteran athlete, it’s a great cool-down and effective antidote to stress. Seniors with injuries or mobility issues can often modify yoga poses to work around their limitations.
Water aerobics can burn many calories, but without the associated joint pain of running, jumping rope and other aerobic exercises. Classes range from simple movements to competitive swimming and aerobics, so you should be able to find an activity as some level, regardless of your parents' activity level or great athletic ability. Contact your local senior center, gym or university swimming pool for class offerings.
Low-Impact Sports Classes
Instructional courses in golf, dance and other low-impact sports offer great ways to challenge your parents’ minds and bodies. These classes make great Christmas and birthday gifts. They can also encourage an otherwise shy parent to get outside, get moving and meet new people.
Outdoor Activities and Clubs
Spending time outside offers access to the sun’s natural vitamin D—a powerful weapon in the fight against osteoporosis. It can also fight depression. For seniors who hate exercise, the beauty of nature can be an incentive to keep moving. These are a few options for helping your aging parents to become more active outside:
- Gardening. If your parents love to garden, invest in tools that make gardening easier, such as raised beds that they can tend while standing. Also consider buying your parents membership access to a garden club or a botany class.
- Senior walking and hiking clubs. With clubs available for every experience and fitness level, you may find the perfect fit in your parents' neighborhood.
- Outdoor travel. Seniors in reasonably good health may love renting an RV for some low-key camping or invest in the latest trend of “glamping.” Instead of sleeping on the ground, buy your parents a week in a yurt or cabin in the wild.
Arts and Crafts
Arts and crafts such as painting, knitting, jewelry-making and scrapbooking are mentally challenging and adaptable to virtually every experience level. Help your parents preserve and strengthen fine motor skills as they are offered something new to do every day. Your parents can enjoy their hobby at home, or can join a group for a little socialization. These are some options for encouraging your parents’ hobbies—or helping them find a new one:
- Buy your parents a class or a craft group membership as a gift. They’re more likely to use it if they know you spent hard-earned money on it.
- Find ways to adapt your parents’ beloved hobbies to their current ability levels. For instance, if your mom loved beadwork but now has trouble with the tiny pieces, consider enrolling her in a class for another form of jewelry-making.
- Ask your parents to teach you something. If your parents have mastered a craft such as woodworking or needlepoint, why not make it a family tradition? This suggestion can help seniors who feel isolated or irrelevant to feel more useful. If they have recently abandoned that hobby, it can also revitalize their interest in a hobby they once loved.
As they age, many seniors develop a new interest in family history. Considering the past connects many seniors to a sense of purpose. It helps them understand their parents and history, while considering their own legacy. Encourage your parent to share their life story, either in writing or through family interviews. Help your parent preserve their story at a Story Corps booth. Veterans may enjoy sharing their story through the Library of Congress’s Veterans History Project or other social media sites for military members.
For another holiday gift idea, try buying them a membership to a genealogy website such as Ancestry.com, or gift them with DNA testing to uncover their ethnic roots.
Church, Social Clubs, and Other Activities
Spending time with others can encourage seniors to get moving, adopt new perspectives and find new hobbies. So don’t ignore the value of social clubs, or of activities like church that get your parent out of the house.
If one or both of your parents hasn’t yet found the perfect fit for their social needs, urge them to consider some of the following ideas:
- A membership at your local senior center.
- A renewed commitment to a cause they care about, such as your local political party.
- A senior volunteer day.
- Joining the senior group at their favorite church.
- Joining a senior book club.
Retirement offers a great time to travel if your parents are in good health; encourage them to explore. A number of organizations offer senior-specific travel opportunities and tours. For active, adventurous seniors, Adventures Abroad offers numerous chances to meet like-minded peers. For a less demanding option, consider a senior cruise.
Seniors with health issues don’t have to be left out of the fun. A road trip to a park a few hours away can scratch the itch to travel without the risks of hiking or traveling abroad. But don’t assume that your aging parents can’t travel just because they’re getting older. Ask their doctor about specific travel limitations, then encourage your parents to be as adventurous as they can safely be.
Your parents will always need stimulation and entertainment, even when aging poses specific challenges to those needs. So work with them to find activities that offer an outlet. Remember, being a senior doesn’t mean your parent has to do “senior” activities. If they’re already passionate about something, find ways to expand that interest, or alter it to accommodate your parents’ changing abilities.
Physical Activity Basics. (2015, June 04). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/index.htm
Stanford researchers find mental health prescription: Nature. (2016, April 08). Retrieved from https://news.stanford.edu/2015/06/30/hiking-mental-health-063015/