Maintaining social connections while benefiting from physical activity

Maintaining meaningful relationships and social interactions and engaging in the community is one of the key themes of successful aging. But in the past year, over one-third of Canadians aged 65 and older have expressed that there had been a negative impact on their mental health since the beginning of the pandemic. Having to be physically distant from family, friends, neighbours, and other important figures in our lives increased feelings of loneliness and increased the risk of depression. 

With vaccination campaigns now well underway and the number of new infections declining across the country, there is a glimmer of hope for resuming an active social life once again. Research shows that physical activity can help build relationships will also providing several other benefits such as improving self-confidence, helping to maintain cognitive skill such as memory, and improve mood, to name a few. 

Join a walking group 
Walking has long been considered an ideal form of physical exercise. It is easy, accessible, requires no special skills or equipment, poses little risk of injury, and can be done virtually anywhere. Walking in groups – as opposed to walking alone – offers several advantages: motivation and support from other group members, opportunities to meet people and socialize, and greater security (another example of safety in numbers). Whether you prefer to start you own walking group with local friends or neighbours or prefer to join an existing one in your community, you will reap the social and physical benefits. 

Make a splash with aquatic exercise 
If you are looking for a low impact workout that is gentle on joints, bones, and muscles, aquatic exercise is a great option. Many sports and recreation centres offer aquatic exercise group classes, offering an opportunity to connect with others while working out. Not a strong swimmer? Not to worry – kickboards, aquatic belts, water dumbbells and other equipment will help keep you buoyant while boosting your workout. As things begin to reopen, look for opportunities in your community to join. 

Try dance  
Whether you are looking to diversify your exercise routine or are finding more traditional forms of exercise (like strength training) too difficult, dance-based exercise can be an exciting, and beneficial addition to add to your routine. Dancing engages both sensory and cognitive functions by involving mind-motor movements and social interaction. It can also help reduce your risk of falls by enhancing balance, mobility, and lower body strength. 

Social wellbeing is just as important as our physical health. By combining physical activity with social interactions, you’ll be doing both your body and mind some good. Remember to always follow the public-health guidelines in your area when interacting with others. To read more, explore our featured resources below. 

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DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (info@mcmasteroptimalaging.org).

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of these blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations such as social distancing and frequent hand washing. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with current social distancing recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.

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