When the days get shorter and colder, it can be harder to stay happy and healthy. This can be the case for older Queenslanders as the winter leads to less activity and more time away from social networks. But there are ways to counter the winter blues. Ozcare’s Head of Aged Care, Lanna Ramsay, has these winter warmers – six tips for staying on top of physical mental health during this Queensland winter. The good news is, they’re all fun:
Make your home your haven – delight in the creature comforts
Something as simple as brewing a fresh pot of tea or indulging in a delicious bowl of comfort food is an easy way to stay happy and healthy over winter. Not just good for you, winter meals and an occasional home-baked treat like scones nourishes the soul as winter can sometimes lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation for our seniors. Baked goodies, slow-cooked meals, cooking up soups to warm the heart – these are all activities that invite a social occasion in winter. Even if it is too cold to get out, turn on the heater and tuck into a hearty meal with fresh vegetables as it can give you the vitamin kick you need to fight off illness.
Use sunlight as therapy – sit in the sun and get your Vitamin D on
Even as far back as ancient Egypt, the sun was being used to heal illnesses such as tuberculosis. It is our source of Vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin”, and is just as important to us today as a growing number of Australians are succumbing to winter depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder – SAD. Research claims that one in 300 Australians are likely to suffer from SAD, with symptoms ranging from feelings of tiredness and craving sugars to more serious depressive thoughts. But even just 10 minutes a day of direct sun exposure on to the skin may be enough to help regulate the important hormones – melatonin and serotonin – that control our mood, appetite and sleep. There are many more health benefits from sun exposure that can be attributed to the Vitamin D it produces in our bodies that combat such diseases as cancer, type 1diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
Exercise – even moderate exercise can lift your mood
Never is it more important to maintain your exercise routine than in winter – if not because it helps our bodies to stay fit and healthy, but it keeps us connected to others – and avoids the isolation that is often associated with growing older. According to research, moderate exercise can even strengthen our immunity and reduce the risk of getting colds and flus. Exercise does not need to be arduous. There are many activities like Chair Zumba – a low impact form of exercise that improves heart health, burns calories and can be an excellent way to boost the confidence of seniors, who may find a simple walk in the park too hard to manage in the cooler months.
Meditation – helps us to cope with feelings of isolation as we age
Just as exercising can improve the function of our bodies, and particularly our heart, a growing area of research around meditation and its benefits for ageing shows that it can also effectively relieve pain, decrease stress, and reduce the risk of heart disease and even aid in our digestion. Unlike some forms of exercise that require a level of fitness, there are no limits to those practising mediation as a way of connecting without social interaction. For people living with dementia, Tai Chi is an especially beneficial form of mindfulness.
Get out and about – socialising slows down the ageing process
According to a Harvard study, socialising becomes more important as we all age and those who can lead a good social life are more likely to live longer, and stay happier and healthier. There are many ways to stay active as we age: activities like playing bingo; joining art or pottery classes; gardening; going shopping; going to the movies; visiting friends and family; joining a book club; or doing volunteer work are just a few. The mental and physical benefits of socialising can range from lifting our energy to lowering our blood pressure or even reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Ask for help and offer help to others – safeguard against serious illness
It takes courage to ask for help sometimes, especially in our latter years when family can live a long way away. But the increasing isolation of our seniors can place them at risk of contracting serious illnesses. One of the best ways to avoid sickness spiraling out of control is to ask for help and help others. It is not always easy to notice you are getting sick so one of the best safeguards against illness in winter is to ask you doctor for a flu vaccination. In Queensland, flu vaccinations are free for anyone over the age of 65.