A holistic approach to staying active


By Dr. Kent Bakaev

Regardless of age, some level of physical activity is beneficial for most everyone. As we age, however, our physical, and other abilities, evolve. As a result, the type and mix of activities – physical, but also cognitive and social activities – also need to evolve.

Regular physical and cognitive activities can create a great sense of wellbeing and can have a real, measureable impact on overall health for people and the way we age. But for seniors, maintaining an active life becomes even more important to their overall wellbeing because the right types of activities can prevent or minimize the impact of common, major age-related medical issues resulting from falls as well as, dementia and depression, among other ailments.

Essentially, there are three types of activities: physical, cognitive and social. Each of these, play a vital role in maintaining and improving overall health and wellbeing.

Obviously, physical activity is exercise for the body. Aerobic exercise, like brisk walking, running or swimming, and the stretching associated with tai chi and yoga, are all physical activities that can be very beneficial for balance, and thus fall prevention, as well as muscle strength building, weigh control, cardiovascular and emotional health.

Cognitive activities exercise the brain. The importance of exercising our brains is on par with physical exercise for our bodies in terms of contributing to a general sense of wellbeing. Whether your pleasure is a group game — such as Bingo, which brings together a cognitive and social activity — or more individual cognitive activities like playing video games or just reading a magazine or a good book, simply speaking, learning new things, which exercises the brain helps to maintain our sharp thinking and good decision making skills.

The final ingredient of this 360-degree activity mix is social. Social activities are oftentimes physical and cognitive. Group exercise classes for yoga or tai chi, for example, bring people together and engage them socially, building a sense of community and support. Card games, Bingo, or an activity like bocce ball, can do the same thing. Regular and scheduled games can become a social network and support system.

The benefits or physical and cognitive activities done in a group setting have widespread benefits that go far beyond from what is obvious.

According to the research from Harvard, Tai chi, for example, is broadly viewed as a very beneficial exercise for older adults to help prevent falls and improve balance. A large body of evidence shows that aerobic activities decrease depression and anxiety, while increasing stamina, flexibility, balance, agility and muscle strength. Most researchers agree that aerobic exercises have the most proven activity to slow the aging of the brain.

Dr. Kent Bakaev, is a physician specializing in Family Medicine and Geriatrics for PACE at Element Care in Methuen, MA. For more information please call 1-877-803-5564 or visitwww.elementcare.org. Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at www.fiftyplusadvocate.com.