A generation ago, when you asked people about their parents who were living in independent living communities or retired and living on their own, you usually heard lots of tales about church bus trips, bingo nights, and local volunteerism. These days, active seniors are doing a whole lot more. Volunteering is still popular, but it’s often in a more active form, such as building houses or digging wells overseas. Former President Jimmy Carter was still building homes through Habitat for Humanity in 2019 at 94.
Impressively Active Seniors
There are plenty of older adults who have impressed their families and friends by taking up physical activities usually reserved for the younger set and excelling at them. Here are a few that may inspire you to take up new physical challenges when you retire:
Dierdre Wolownick was healthy but wasn’t an athlete when she started rock climbing at 55 at her son’s urging. She discovered she loved the mental and physical challenge of finding routes and pushing her limits. In 2017, at age 66, she became the oldest woman to climb El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.
Ernie Andrus didn’t start running until he retired at age 64, but he fell in love with it and soon began entering various 5K and 10K events as well as half-marathons. He’s also competed in multiple longer events, including a 200-mile marathon. He continues to compete at the ripe old age of 93, making him one of the most active seniors for men aged 90 to 100.
Harriette Thompson enjoyed running but entered her first marathon when she was 76. At 92, she was the oldest woman to complete the Suia Rock’n’Roll San Diego Marathon, which is 26 miles long. She’s also a classical pianist who has performed more than once at Carnegie Hall – a remarkable life to be sure!
Louis Self is a retired science teacher who tried kiteboarding for the first time when he was 58. He loved the challenge of controlling the board and the discipline of developing both upper body and leg strength. He now competes competitively in his 70’s, sometimes propelling his kiteboard as high as 20 feet into the air.
Active Seniors Live in Active Communities
Family members always worry about elderly parents and retired family members who are living alone. They’re concerned that their loved ones aren’t eating right or exercising enough. These are valid concerns, particularly when retirees live by themselves and don’t get out enough or don’t have access to activities through senior centers, local gyms, or friends. If an individual isn’t self-motivated to go for a run, volunteer, or hit the beach, it is easy to get out of the habit of physical activity or exercise.
This is why it’s so important to find the right senior living community when you retire. Look for one that offers the amenities you or your loved ones can take advantage of to become and remain active seniors. Walking paths, a gym or sports facility, a swimming pool, and the opportunity to take classes such as aerobics, tai chi, yoga, strength training can contribute to staying active.
Having access to local beaches, gyms, sports facilities, and parks is also something to consider. If you enjoy hiking or kayaking, proximity to a lake, river, or state park can be a deciding factor. If you plan on taking classes at a karate studio or indoor climbing gym several times a week, having available transportation to and from the location will be important. Surfing lessons? Be sure you’ll be able to get to and from the beach with your board.
Some Options for Active Seniors That Have a Multitude of Benefits
If you’re on the adventurous side and you’ve been looking for ways to strengthen your body while staying active, consider some of these activities:
Active seniors who love the water agree there’s something emotionally soothing about slipping into the waves and letting them wash over you. Swimming and surfing offer you a challenging physical workout with low impact because of the buoyancy of being in the water. There’s less stress on your joints, but you need to master body control because you’re fighting against the current. Combine that with the beauty of nature, and you have a winning combination.
There are climbing styles that seniors can explore, including indoor climbing at a gym, outdoor bouldering, sport climbing, and rock climbing. Each offers different elements, but all require both upper and lower body control, core body strength, and critical thinking skills to plan out a path to get from point A to point B and beyond as you chart your route on the move. It’s a cerebral sport despite its extreme physicality. Bonus: the view from the top is almost always spectacular.
While tai chi and yoga are very different in that one is a form of martial art, and one is not, they both focus on taking the body slowly through precise poses and movements, transitioning from one pose to the next. When practicing either art, active seniors focus on coordinating their muscles, breathing, mind, and heart to draw their energy and strength inward and channel it properly. In the process, the body becomes stronger, more graceful, and more centered. It also helps to lower blood pressure, increase flexibility, and relieve stress.
The number of marathon runners in their 60s, 70s, and 80s has increased dramatically over the last three decades. They’re obviously doing something right. If you enjoy running and dream of completing a half-marathon or entering a 5K or 10K, running is an excellent workout for your body and cardiovascular system. Advances on the quality of running shoes mean it isn’t as hard on joints as it used to be, so it’s become more popular.
Biking is incredibly popular with active seniors for many health reasons, not least of which is it’s not only great exercise, it’s inexpensive transportation. You can bike around town several months out of the year without wasting gas and go just about anywhere you need to go. You get a cardio and core workout, great leg toning, and you can park almost anywhere. Mountain biking is an even better workout and can take you on trails that offer fantastic scenery and challenging courses.
We’re not talking about covering the nursery every Sunday, although that’s nice. We’re talking about volunteering your physical labor to help others. Habit for Humanity builds houses from the ground up for families who need them, so you’ll be digging foundations, putting up walls, installing drywall, and more.
You can also contact your local Chamber of Commerce or Social Services Office about community clean-up projects such as cleaning up a local park or playground. It can be back-breaking work, but the results are well worth it. Other physically demanding volunteer work that will give you tremendous emotional satisfaction: Walking dogs at the local shelter or rescue, working at a homeless shelter, serving at a soup kitchen.
If you can make a long-term commitment, look into mentoring programs such as Big Brothers or Big Sisters. Many teens desperately need a guiding hand today, and active seniors can provide them with the stability and guidance they need. Older adults benefit from having a young person to do things with who will keep them on their toes physically and perhaps teach them a new and exciting activity. Let your little brother or little sister teach you how to skateboard, or take a dance class together. Active seniors aren’t letting age or expectations hold them back any longer. They’re finding new horizons and rushing to meet them when it comes to ways to stay healthy and challenge themselves physically and mentally. The result? Seniors who are living healthier, happier lives for years longer.