Bloomington / Normal, IL

Working with the community... for a healthier community.

Participating in Activities You Enjoy – More Than Just Fun and Games


Submitted by Meadows at Mercy Creek Assisted Living

June feels great. She enjoys gardening, playing cards with friends on Tuesdays and Fridays at the senior center, and taking a water aerobics class at an indoor pool. She turns 78 this year, but she feels like she’s still in her forties.

Does June’s active lifestyle have anything to do with her good health and good function? Researchers would likely say “yes.” There are many things you can do to help yourself age well. Physical activity, exercise, and making healthy food choices are the cornerstones for most suggestions about healthy aging. Emerging research also indicates the possibility that engaging in social and productive activities you enjoy, like taking an art class or volunteering in your community or with your place of worship, may also help maintain your wellbeing. A number of early studies found that people who are involved in hobbies and other social and leisure pursuits may be at lower risk for (and less likely to develop) some health problems, including dementia. They might even live longer. In one study, older adults who reported participating in social activities (e.g., played games, belonged to social groups, traveled) or meaningful, productive activities (e.g., had paid or unpaid jobs, gardened) lived longer than people who did not. Researchers are exploring if participation in these kinds of activities can be the direct cause of positive health outcomes.

Melvin has not quite felt like himself since he retired. He worked at the same job for over 50 years and enjoyed his daily routine. Now, Melvin misses catching up with his customers and hearing about their families. He misses teaching new employees the ins and outs of the trade. He misses waking up feeling like he has a purpose. Melvin heard about a program at a library where retired people volunteer to help children with homework. He thinks that might be a good idea for him.

Research shows that people who are sociable, generous, and goal-oriented may be happier and less depressed than other people. Sitting at home alone could help explain why Melvin is not feeling like himself. Volunteering might help Melvin feel better. According to researchers, older adults who participate in what they believe are meaningful activities, like volunteering in their communities, say they feel healthier and happier. For example, older adult volunteers from an urban community worked approximately 15 hours a week in their neighborhood public elementary schools, in a special program designed to improve children’s school success. Researchers learned that the older volunteers increased their cognitive, social, and physical activity levels. Participants also reported feeling personal satisfaction from the experience. Although more research is needed, researchers think that over the long term, the participants may have decreased their risk for disability, dependency, and dementia in later life.

Linn was used to helping care for her grandchildren while her daughter was at work. Now the younger grandchildren are in high school. They just don’t need as much help. As a result, Linn finds that she has a lot of extra time on her hands. She is thinking about joining her church’s young-at-heart social group. She hears that they do many different volunteer activities, play bingo Sunday evenings, go to the movies together, have a knitting club, and even organize a power walk in the mall two mornings a week.

Linn’s church has an active program. But, there are plenty of other options for places to volunteer or be socially active. Where you look to find these opportunities might depend on what you are interested in doing. The following are some examples of social and productive activities you might like:

  • Volunteering at a library, hospital, or other community health facility
  • Playing cards and other games with your friends
  • Going to the theater, a movie, or a sporting event
  • Traveling with a group of older adults, perhaps a retiree group
  • Visiting friends and family
  • Trying different restaurants
  • Gardening in your backyard or at a community park
  • Organizing a park clean-up through your local recreation center
  • Taking a cooking class
  • Singing in a choral group
  • Joining a book club
  • Going dancing
  • Taking a group exercise class
  • Playing a musical instrument, learning a new instrument
  • Joining a group interested in a hobby, like knitting or wood carving
  • Getting a part-time job
  • Taking an art class

Everyone has different limits to the amount of time he or she can spend on social or other activities. What is perfect for one person might be too much for another. Participating in activities you enjoy should be fun, not stressful.

For more information about senior living, you may contact Shelly Nagy, at Meadows at Mercy Creek, 309-268-1403. Mercy Creek is located at 1501 Mercy Creek Drive in Normal (near the intersection of Raab Road and Towanda-Barnes), offering services such as chef-prepared meals, housekeeping, maintenance, complimentary transportation, life enrichment opportunities, and a full range of health and personal care assistance.