There’s a chill in the air indicating that cold weather, snow, and ice are just around the corner. While we bask in the comfort of our sweaters and pumpkin spice lattes, soaking up the transitional weather between summer and winter, it’s important to remember that to stay healthy and upright, we need to maintain social connections and physical activity even as the weather turns cold.
Many older adults report feeling socially isolated and/or lonely. Winter weather certainly doesn’t help when weather conditions make it more difficult to get out and about to meet up with friends or attend an exercise class. As tempting as it is to bundle up under the covers with a good book or movie, staying active is important for both mental and physical health.
Icy sidewalks can be frightening, but there are many options for staying active during the winter. With the appropriate equipment, it’s often possible to safely go outside. Yak traks, which attach to your boots, and ice cane tips both provide more traction for walking on icy ground. Also wearing layers is important if you plan to exercise outside so you can better regulate your body temperature. If you’re not keen on braving the elements, there are now lots of programs available virtually that help improve balance. Local programs include Tai Chi and Ballroom Basics for Balance offer virtual programming, and you can also find some great videos online. Silver Sneakers has a library of videos, and most Medicare plans allow you to easily access them. Your living room, kitchen and bathroom can become your own personal gym if you incorporate simple exercises like toe raises while brushing your teeth or side-stepping down the length of your kitchen counter. The main thing is to KEEP MOVING! Less movement means loss of muscle mass for those important muscles that help you stand from a seated position, sit from a standing position, and safely step up or down from a curb.
In addition to the falls prevention aspect of moving and staying engaged in some sort of programming, there’s also a very important social factor. Whether we’re Facetiming loved ones who may not live nearby or chatting with a neighbor on the telephone, maintaining social connection is vital to our health. According to the Office of the Surgeon General, lacking social connection is as dangerous as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. And according to the report released this year, “chronic loneliness and social isolation can increase the risk of developing dementia by approximately 50% in older adults. Additionally, lacking social connection increases risk of premature death by more than 60%” The effects of Covid-19 have shed an even brighter light on how important social connection is through all stages of life. Balance-enhancing classes, both in-person and virtual, can help provide that social connection for many people.
This winter, try making a goal to maintain social connections and to keep active! This can be done many different ways however YOU feel the most comfortable doing it. Don’t hesitate to visit the Safe Communities website (www.safercommunity.net) or call Ashley Hillman at 608-235-1957 to find out what programs (both in-person and virtual) are available near you. We all want the autonomy to be independent and to live our lives the way we want – staying connected and staying upright will help us to achieve those goals.