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The Importance of Purpose: interests and hobbies in the older years

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active old people

There is a curious idea, especially among younger folk, that when you retire or become too old to engage in the many pastimes of youth, that you end up with nothing to do. Of course, there are those who mange to achieve this with either satisfaction or a considerable amount of grumbling. But either way, the human condition is not designed for ‘nothing’ and people should understand well in advance, the importance for planning their older years – and the consequences of not doing so.

There are a host of sensible reasons for keeping yourself busy when living a retired life. Some of them are obvious and some of them may surprise you, but all of them in different ways, are very likely to lengthen your life – or even save it. But if nothing else, living the older years with purpose simply makes you happier.

People talk about having hobbies in old age. Of course hobbies are fun and keep the mind and body active. And doing something you enjoy makes you happy. And if you’re happy, you’re less likely to succumb to a host of ailments that can make themselves felt in the older years. As important as hobbies are, they are only one aspect of keeping yourself engaged and present. There are a spread of benefits that an active, thoughtful life with interests, or even work, will evince:

Physical wellbeing:
Not only can physical activity keep you supple, strengthen muscles and loosen up tight ligaments and joints, it also helps to prevent or alleviate some chronic illnesses such as: heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and even some types of cancer. With exercise, the immune system improves and general ailments such as colds, flu and other nasty viruses can be kept at bay. Physical activity would need to be done consistently over a consistent period of time in order to effect and maintain benefits, improving overall energy levels and quality of life – and most certainly contributing to longevity.

The surprising thing about exercising in old age, is that even if you haven’t done that much during your life as a younger person, a gradual reintroduction of exercise can positively affect the muscular-skeletal structure almost immediately. Games such as golf, basket ball, tennis and badminton can be continued well into old age, or revived with careful training. Yoga, Tai Chi, swimming or dancing are all excellent alternatives to sport and effective in keeping your body strong and flexible. And never forget the old standby of a daily walk.

Mental wellbeing:
Remaining mentally competent in the older years is a concern for everyone as we age. While the decline of memory is an aspect of old age that is always with us, there are a number of ways of keeping the old grey matter at work. The simplest of all is reading. People who read books all their lives have been shown to have quicker comprehension and greater retention of information. The key to a stronger intellect and better memory is the simple act of reading from childhood to old age. Hobbies offer tremendous stimulation with regard to planning, creativity, problem-solving skills and completing tasks. And many happy hours spent with your craft invariably calms the mind which is hugely conducive to generating ideas and thought-processing. Games that press mental processes into action are also helpful: puzzles, card games, crosswords, Soduko, chess, etc, are fun, engrossing, challenging and stimulating.

Probably the one thing that is least helpful to mental agility is television. Television feeds the imagination rather than letting it work for itself. Our brains are at their least active when watching television. Unfortunately, many elderly people tend to sit for hours happily ensconced in front of the TV. Try and limit this time to your favourite programmes only, and for the rest of the time do something that challenges your brain to work.

Psychological and Emotional wellbeing:
Any occupation that makes you concentrate and keeps you involved, whether you’re scrapbooking, building model aeroplanes or singing in the church choir, creates a feeling of achievement, engagement and contentment. There is a mind/body connection that works reciprocally, one influencing the other all the time. Keeping physically active keeps the mind alive and an active mind helps to keep the body healthy. Whether you focus on cooking, gardening or just walking, you are keeping your mind on pleasant activities external to yourself – and this reduces stress, tension and depression.

Anxiety can so easily be felt by elderly people in all sorts of ways. Without the cultivation of interests, worries and fears can become overwhelming, creating the kind of negativity that emphasizes the ills of old age rather than the joys. People who remain interested in hobbies and a variety of activities, remain far more independent-minded. They are less demanding on family support and significantly happier, energised, and more interesting to be with – making family relationships easier and more enjoyable.

Social wellbeing:
Nothing is more important than keeping up social contacts. Apart from family, friends are vital. The sad thing is that many people let friendships slip away during the younger years because they are too busy running their homes, children and careers. The older years can therefore become lonely without the support of long-nurtured friendships. It is therefore key to try and maintain sound friendships but also to establish new connections in latter years through shared interests and hobbies.

Learning a new skill, doing voluntary work, learning a language, not only stimulates the mind but also keeps you engaged with others, encouraging self-development and greater self-esteem. And when you are busy, interested and involved, you become a more attractive person and people will gravitate towards you. Other people are integral to developing a sense of commitment, belonging and connection. Social engagement stimulates the kind of mood required for happiness; it is the network you need to fully be yourself.

The purpose-filled life:
There is no doubt that we are happiest when we are doing something we feel is valuable and contributory. To have purpose is to have a desire to shape the day, to control time and to feel a sense of satisfaction. A mind let loose will languish but a mind directed to initiate, plan and perform actions, is a mind guided by purpose. To have purpose – whether as a pleasant pastime such as a handicraft or being a committee member or providing a support service to others – is to define life physically, mentally and spiritually. Purpose originates in the mind and finds fruition through planning, action and engagement. Throughout our lives, we are bound by purpose – and it should be no different in old age. In fact, it should become more emphasized, not less. With the hindsight of experience, we are offered unbounded opportunities and extraordinary freedom of choice and spirit.

The Helderberg Society for the Aged:
The Helderberg Society for the Aged provides a variety of secure lifestyle options for elderly people in an environment of compassion and care. Entertainment and engagement of our members is vital to our approach of keeping people happy, healthy and participative in activities that will enliven, motivate and enrich. We believe in safety, peace and quiet for our elderly – but certainly not loneliness or inactivity. We believe in encouraging life to the fullest for all the people within our services encompassing Independent Living, Assisted Living, Home-based Care and Frail Care. Find out more about us: www.hsfa.org.za

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Guest Saturday, 27 May 2017

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