What are the best activities and hobbies you can pursue as you get older? Of course, you should spend time doing what you really enjoy, but there are certain pursuits that bring particular benefits once you’ve entered your 60s. Here are just some ideas…
Brush your teeth standing on one leg
“Standing on one leg improves your balance and also helps prevent falls,” says Professor Dermot Power, consultant at The Mater Hospital, Dublin, and specialist in Geriatric Medicine. Falling is “remarkably common” as a factor in hospital and nursing home admissions, he warns.
Meet people and do things you enjoy
Keep up your social engagements and hobbies because research has shown this to be associated with greater life satisfaction and healthier and happier ageing, explains Professor Des O’Neill, a specialist in Geriatric and Stroke Medicine based in Tallaght Hospital and Trinity College Dublin.
Walk, dance or cycle
Our muscles tend to weaken significantly from about the age of 60 or 70, so it’s wise to engage in regular physical activity, explains Neuroscientist and Professor of Physiology at UL, William O’Connor.
However, working up a sweat can also help to exercise the brain, reveals Prof O’Connor, who says the latest research shows that exercising the leg muscles can improve cognition, clear the mind and make you more alert. “Exercising large muscles like the leg muscles result in a lot of oxygen being brought both to body and brain, which in turn keeps you more alert and makes you less vulnerable to illnesses, including Alzheimer’s Disease. Sitting in a chair might feel more comfortable but you’re far better off going for a walk,” he says.
Gardening is an activity that promotes overall health in terms of physical strength and fitness and cognitive ability, reveals Dr Katie Robinson, Discipline Lead in Occupational Therapy at the University of Limerick. “Gardening is also proven to be stress relieving. It offers valued contact with nature and can allow opportunities to socialise, particularly in the case of allotment gardening.”
Join your gym and work with a personal trainer to target specific muscles with strength training. Using weights under supervision is one the best ways to target specific muscle groups as you age, explains Prof O’Connor. “Any kind of strength training can help your heart. There is also new evidence that strength training can also increase your memory capacity and has an important effect in terms of staving off Alzheimer’s Disease because it targets the heart and contributes to a much fitter body,” he explains.
Climb the stairs 10 times a day
Walking up and down the stairs 10 times a day strengthens the thigh muscles which, in turn, helps prevent falls. “Alternatively, stand up out of your chair without using the arm rests – this also strengthens the thigh muscles and reduces the risk of falls,” says Prof Power.
Google with a goal
Pick something you want to learn about and follow it in a goal-directed way, recommends Prof O’Connor, whose popular educational website insidethebrain.com has recorded more than one million hits. “Goal-directed learning is very good for the brain. It requires discipline. You are not allowing yourself to be distracted.”
Get a smartphone
If you haven’t had one before, getting a smartphone opens up a whole new challenge for the older person. It also helps you communicate better with friends and family, says Prof O’Connor.
Knit or crochet
“These are both very powerful anti-anxiety activities,” says Prof O’Connor. When you are knitting, he says, you’re following a detailed pattern so your mind is taken up with the rules of knitting. If you suffer from severe anxiety, he suggests learning crochet: “It’s very complicated and requires a very strong focus on the pattern, which blocks anxiety from the mind.”
Bridge is the most intellectually demanding of all the card games, says Prof O’Connor. It’s extremely good for the brain, he says, because the strategies involved in bridge are extremely complicated. On top of this, you have to play with a partner and there are multiple ways to win the game, all of which keeps your mind very alert.
“It’s also a very sociable game, which is good for your mood!”