Social gerontologists view social engagement as a key component of “successful aging.” Social activities and participation, studies show, can lead to less mental and physical decline. The trick is finding the activities that jibe your personality or natural pull toward neighborliness and group involvement, according to a national study on social connectedness. Here are five fun activities that key into senior sociability.
Take Up Tai Chi
This gentle but effective alternative to yoga is now popular among seniors and offers a great social opportunity for meeting your peers. Tai Chi is shown to improve balance and to build lower body strength, protecting against falls. The exercise involves making slow, graceful movements while breathing deeply. People with varying abilities can do it—some seated on chairs, others standing. It requires no special equipment and classes are often held in parks, to weave in the serenity and simplicity of the outdoors.
Bonus: Studies show that Tai Chi improves sleep, a sense of well-being and the ability to concentrate and multi-task.
Join a Senior Center
Increasingly innovative, senior centers go way beyond Bingo these days. Many offer foreign language classes, book clubs, writing workshops, high-level arts and crafts classes and field trips to museums and sporting events. They also have silly fun-loving offerings like Karaoke (American Idol-style) and dog shows to see if your own pooch is prize-worthy. They plan park outings and arrange lecture series to spur political discussions and keep the synapses firing.
Bonus: For as interesting as senior centers are these days, they still strive to emphasize laughter and creativity—two factors in sparking and heightening sociability. Many places feature “ice breaker” board games that are creative without being heavy-handed about it. Such games include Table Topics and Word Teasers if you want to try them with friends on your own.
Take a Ballroom or Swing Dance Class
It’s a fun social opportunity, keeps you fit and improves your balance and gait. Dance classes also keep you feeling youthful and encourage you to meet other dance-loving partners, say social scientists. Social dance classes are offered at dance studios, banquet halls, senior centers and even some supermarkets like Wegman’s.
In addition, dance cardio or dance fitness classes like Zumba are now popular and available at gyms, community centers and even hospitals. These updated aerobics classes improve balance and gait, cardio health, and overall fitness and weight management.
Bonus: Dancing is associated with a reduced risk of dementia, according to a New England Journal of Medicine study. What’s more, a 21-year study funded by the National Institute on Aging showed that out of all the leisure activities studied—including biking, swimming and doing crossword puzzles—dancing was the only physical activity to offer protection against dementia. Some neurologists say that freestyle social dancing, such as swing, is especially effective at preventing dementia. The reason: This type of dance requires constant rapid decision-making that forces your brain to forge new neural pathways.
Join an Outdoor Excursions Club
Folks who value nature and outdoor activity still clamor for that, especially as they age. Even if you can’t take strenuous hikes or kayaking trips, senior-style outdoor excursions clubs find ways to modify these activities and offer them throughout the year. (You can also wear your Medical Alert mobile system with GPS tracking, to ensure you can be found anywhere in case of a fall.)
Google to find a local excursions club that might charge only a minimal membership fee. Or try checking out the community board at a local senior living community. You might be able to join the group on an excursion to a local park for a picnic or to a lush city park to see the Japanese gardens. Or, start an outdoors excursion club of your own!
Bonus: Studies show that seniors who spend time outdoors experience less depression and anxiety and improved mood. People who bike or walk in natural settings have a reduced risk of mental health problems compared to those who exercise inside. Exercising outside also leads to increased Vitamin D levels from sun exposure. Adequate vitamin D is linked to improved mood and health and reduced risk of osteoporosis and falls.
Host a Virtual Bowling Night
The Wii video game system featuring virtual bowling or tennis is popular among seniors. Check out progressive senior centers to find out why: These virtual games make competition easy, fun and low-pressure. The games require only body movement—no joysticks needed.
Bonus: The games are extremely safe so there is little risk of slipping a disc in your back or arthritic pain flaring in your sho