Fun and games may add more years (and enjoyment) to life - Tucson Local Media: Aging Well

Fun and games may add more years (and enjoyment) to life

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Posted: Wednesday, May 9, 2012 4:00 am

Special to The Explorer

If it’s May it must be… Older Americans Month, sponsored by the U.S. Administration on Aging. What a great opportunity to salute the rich lives of older adults in our community. This year’s theme, Never Too Old to Play, spotlights the creative ways older adults participate actively in the world around them – including the enjoyment of pure fun and games.  Playing is essential, and it’s not just for kids. The ability to play is an important factor in aging well. Recreation, the arts, favorite hobbies, and lifelong learning have proven health benefits in mind and body.

The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging is the largest and longest running study of aging in the world. One of its findings: the process of aging differs from person to person. The study points out actions and attitudes that can make a positive difference in later life. Findings show older adults who are sociable, generous and goal-oriented report higher levels of happiness and less depression. Being socially active and productive may even add years to their lives. Even participating in activities like making art, theater training, dancing, playing board games, reading a book or playing an instrument has been shown to improve mental and physical well-being as we age, lower the risk of dementia, and increase morale.

At Splendido, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Tucson, residents agree that an active life is a good life, well past the age of eighty. Inez Christenson, who moved from Kentucky, on her own, to live at Splendido in 2006, says that she didn’t know anyone when she moved in, “so I immediately knew I had to get involved.”

Involvement indeed! Christenson plays bridge three times a week, takes an exercise class twice a week, reads fiction and non-fiction, serves as a greeter at Splendido’s fitness center, and participates in an award-winning, traveling performance group called Gestures of Joy that combines music, sign language and theatrics. She even plays billiards with three other women who practice regularly and have a set game each Wednesday night. “We’ve become really good friends,” she said.

Jane Johnson who lives at Splendido with her husband Jack, agrees that being active mentally and physically is a key to well-being. “Splendido gives us that opportunity,” she said. “We give them an A!” Johnson attends the Splendido Intellectual Pursuits Program, along with about 100 other residents, to partake in a variety of classes in spring and fall. “The learning really keeps us on our toes and the subjects range from dealing with back pain to solving world problems,” she said.

Chair volleyball is another activity she enjoys. Players volley the ball while sitting and keeping one “cheek” on the chair at all times. “It might sound weird,” she said, “but there’s a lot of laughter and physical exertion. It’s a real social event and we enjoy each other.”  Like Christenson, Johnson also performs in Gestures of Joy though she’s never performed before in her life, and serves on Splendido’s hospitality committee, a group that informs new residents of everything this vibrant community has to offer. As for residents who are timid about trying something new? Johnson offers this advice, “Give it a try. Come and join us.”

After attending a resident-taught billiards class, June Danoff found herself getting more and more involved in playing the game. “I spend considerable time practicing,” she said, “and I’m getting good at it. They call us The Sharks.” Ms. Danoff also takes art classes and has taught three sessions of bridge to Splendido residents. “People are generous sharing their expertise. I’ve learned things I never thought I’d be interested in,” she said.

Through their continued contributions, either by teaching, learning, or just playing around, older adults benefit when they engage their passions or discover new ones. Activating the creative impulse is not only a pleasure, doing so also enhances emotional, mental and physical health along the way.

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