One of the most important choices you’ll make in retirement is where you live. From promoting physical health to improving mental wellness, where you call home can have a huge impact on your quality of life. Numerous studies have shown that the wide range of amenities and support structures provided in an independent living community can help make these years of your life the healthiest and most rewarding — and here are the top five health benefits provided by becoming a part of such a community.
Whether you’ve always been a social butterfly or prefer to spend your time with a few close friends and family members, there’s no denying the importance of friendships and social relationships — and the effects of having strong social connections (or the lack thereof) can go beyond the simple joys of having someone with whom to chat. Scientific studies have found that a person’s social relationships can have a significant impact on their overall health.
For example, one study performed by researchers from the University of Texas at Austin found links between the quality and quantity of social relationships and a person’s mental and physical health. The scientists noted multiple areas in which positive social interactions can support overall health; for example, they found that adequate social support as an adult can lower cardiovascular reactivity to stressors. The inverse, these researchers found, was also true: social isolation and lack of relationships can have a negative effect on health. For example, adults without positive social relationships are at greater risk of reduced health and early mortality.
The conclusion here should be clear: maintaining a strong social life with enough opportunities to form meaningful friendships is important for staying in good health as you age. Of course, that can be easier said than done in many environments. Many older adults find themselves having greater difficulty driving, making it harder to get out of the house and socialize. Even if you are still comfortable getting around, the opportunities to forge new friendships certainly diminish as you age.
All of these barriers to socializing and making friendships are eliminated in a retirement living environment. From casual opportunities to make conversation in the dining room to targeted programs aimed at creating social connections such as classes and events, one of the main goals of an independent living community is to foster companionship — helping to support your overall health in a very important way.
For many, cooking is a fun hobby with a rewarding payoff, but there’s no denying that the need to plan menus, go grocery shopping and cook every meal can become more burdensome as you age. It can often be easier to rely on premade frozen meals or fast food — or to just skip meals altogether — but the effects of doing so can be quite damaging to your health.
That’s because while good nutrition is important at every stage of life, it becomes especially necessary in your later years. A study carried out by University of Maryland researchers found that older adults who included plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish, poultry and reduced-fat dairy products in their diet led better and longer lives than those who didn’t. That’s particularly true because age-related changes to your physiology can put you at greater risk of developing a nutritional deficiency; for example, lower gastric acidity can lead to a deficiency in B12.
In other words, making sure that you eat well as you get older is as important as it is often difficult when you’re living alone. In a senior living environment, however, this problem is resolved. Such communities have in-house chefs and well-run dining options to ensure that you can easily get the three balanced meals that you need each day to keep yourself healthy. As an added bonus, these dining spaces can give you an opportunity to mingle with friends, helping to build those all-important social relationships.
Many people look forward to their retirement years, imagining a time when they can pursue their hobbies and just enjoy life instead of toiling away in the 9-to-5 daily grind. When retirement finally comes, however, it’s common for people to not know what to do with all of their newfound free time.
Moreover, practicing old hobbies and taking up new ones is important for more than just filling up your free hours; research suggests that doing so can help improve your mental sharpness, clarity and overall mental health. Researchers at the University of Western Australia, Perth, found that older adults who combined programs aimed at cognitive training with physical exercise had vastly improved verbal memory compared to their peers who didn’t. You don’t have to take up hobbies that specifically provide cognitive training such as doing crossword puzzles, either (though a daily crossword puzzle won’t hurt); University of Texas at Dallas scientists found that engaging in hobbies as diverse as quilting or digital photography can help boost memory.
Mental acuity isn’t the only area benefitted by staying mentally active in retirement; your mental wellness can depend on it as well. For example, one study found that older adults who joined in leisure activities such as hobbies or sports experienced better mental health than those who didn’t. Keeping your mind engaged can even result in longer life! Nara Medical University researchers found that older adults who regularly participated in hobbies had a longer healthy life expectancy than those who did not.
Here’s another area where living in an independent living community can provide critical support. Such communities typically offer a wide range of programs and spaces to practice your hobbies, from art studios and private gardening areas to game rooms and educational classes. That means that whether you’re looking to devote more time to a life-long pursuit or you’re finally ready to learn how to paint after years of dreaming about it, these communities can give you the space and resources necessary to have fun while supporting your cognitive and mental health.
Daily life contains many stressors, from getting stuck in a traffic jam to facing a long wait at the doctor’s office. As inevitable as stress is, older adults in particular should be careful to lower their stress levels as much as possible. That’s because research has shown that high levels of stress can lead to significant declines in mental and physical health as you age — and you become less resilient to stress as you get older.
Part of the reason for this is due to aging cells; the effects of stress are greater when your heart and lung fitness are already declining, for example. This is particularly true if you suffer from a chronic illness that already places additional burden on your body. Stress can impact your health in a myriad of ways, from causing tension headaches, heart palpitations and indigestion to triggering irritability, anxiety, difficulty concentrating or sleep problems.
There’s evidence that stress can negatively impact cognitive health, too. One study conducted by researchers at Oregon State University found that older adults who find themselves emotionally reacting to stress on a daily basis experience greater declines in cognitive function than those who take stressors in stride. While this shows that it’s important to learn how to not get worked up over small inconveniences, it is also helpful for your brain health to eliminate as many stressful situations as possible.
Becoming a member of a supportive living environment can help you achieve this goal of a lower-stress, healthier life. How? It’s simple: by taking care of many of the daily activities that cause undue stress. Many such communities provide weekly housekeeping services and trash removal, and necessary landscaping services such as lawn care or snow removal are also taken care of for you. No longer will you need to worry about what to do if your toilet won’t stop running or your oven breaks; on-staff maintenance crews can perform such repairs for you. Even running errands is less stressful as concierge services and transportation are often provided. Lastly, one of the biggest stresses that many older adults experience — how to get help quickly in case of a medical emergency — is all but eliminated thanks to the emergency response staff that are kept close at hand in such communities.
All in all, joining an independent living community can greatly reduce the stress you experience and boost your physical and mental health in turn.
If you’ve been living in your current home for much of your adult life, it can be tough to approach the subject of moving. However, as you take a look around your home, are there any maintenance issues that you’ve been putting off repairing? Perhaps a rickety banister along the stairs or loose floorboards in the hall? Unfortunately, any deferred maintenance issues such as these, which almost always arise in older homes, can be a safety concern, making trips and falls much more likely. What’s more, fixing these issues can often be too difficult or time-consuming for many who wish to actually enjoy their retirement years.
Even if you live in a new construction without any deferred maintenance issues, moving into a supportive living community can be beneficial to your safety. Such communities offer security and safety-focused amenities that most apartment complexes and housing developments can’t provide, such as round-the-clock security and an on-site emergency response team. If the unthinkable happens and you experience a medical emergency, the time savings that these services provide can make the help you receive all the more effective. Additional features such as handrails in the hallways, emergency call systems and no-step showers can make the odds of having an accident in the first place even lower.
At Aspire at Carriage Hill, our senior living community is designed to support active adults in a resort-style setting. Our goal is to make the future even more exciting and enjoyable than you imagined, and we help support this goal by offering residents a wide range of luxuries and amenities within a community that emphasizes freedom and independence. Located in Richmond, VA, we have a number of independent living apartments available now; contact us today to learn more!