Tips for Healthy Aging

Beach Chair

The content in this section is categorized using the Six Dimensions of Wellness Model: occupational, physical, social, intellectual, spiritual and emotional. This section provides ideas for ways to improve your health and well being as an older adult. This information was obtained from evidence-based research articles and reputable websites.  Regardless of your health and wellness needs, this section can help you age well.  

Dimensions of Wellness

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Occupational Wellness Dimension

Occupational wellness is felt by individuals when they experiences satisfaction and fulfillment in their work.  Through both volunteering and paid employment individuals can experience occupational wellness.  Volunteering contributes to healthy aging because it expands social circles, provides people with a sense of accomplishment, and increases self-esteem through the completion of projects and helping others (Brown, Nesse, Vinokur & Smith, 2003).  Some great websites to find volunteering opportunities in Marin County are Volunteer Marin, Marin County Parks, Volunteer Information Center, and the Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership.

Physical Wellness Dimension

The physical dimension of wellness includes information and resources regarding nutrition and hydration, and on the health benefits of different forms of exercise such as Tai Chi, yoga, aerobic exercise, and strength training.

Nutrition and Hydration

Good nutrition is essential for healthy aging.  Older adults receive essential nutrients when eating a diet rich in natural foods like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and healthy fats like olive oil, fish oil and coconut oil.  Processed foods such as white bread/rice, refined sugar/artificial sugar and fast food should be avoided.  Essential substances such as antioxidants, polyphenols and other essential nutrients found in fresh fruits and vegetables decrease rates of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, cognitive decline and dementia (Brown-Borg et al., 2012).

Drinking enough fluids is essential because dehydration can cause numerous health problems, especially in older adults.  Severe dehydration can lead to hospitalization, infection, loss of cognitive function, and even death if not treated immediately.  Due to changes in the body during aging, such as a decrease in total body water and a decrease in being able to sense thirst, dehydration can happen quickly in older adults and without the individual being aware of it. Staying hydrated every day is the best way to prevent this (Morrow, 2013).

Two excellent websites on healthy diet and hydration tips for older adults are HelpGuide and LiveStrong.  Some local health food stores in Marin County that carry organic wholesome foods are Whole Foods Market in San Rafael, Mill Valley and Novato and Good Earth Natural Foods.

Physical Exercise

Physical exercise is a great way to stay healthy by increasing blood circulation, raising metabolism, reducing stress, improving the quality of sleep and maintaining or increasing the strength of muscles and bones. Some excellent forms of exercise for older adults are Tai Chi, Yoga, aerobic exercise, and strength training.

Tai Chi
Tai chi is a form of low impact exercise that improves the mental and physical health of older adults, in addition to improving quality of life (Ho, Wen-Min, & Lien, 2007).  “Sun style” tai chi is considered the best for older adults because the stance limits strain on the knees.  Information on how to start learning tai chi can be found at Tai Chi: An Introduction.

Yoga is an ancient Indian mind-body approach to wellness that consists of meditation, breathing patterns and specific postures.  Yoga is a low impact exercise that improves body flexibility, strength, physical health and promotes well being (Oken et al. 2006). The best types of yoga for seniors are Iyengar, because the poses can be adapted with props, and Hatha and Restorative yoga, which are gentle forms of the practice. " silver yoga" is a type of yoga developed just for older adults. 

Iyengar Yoga focuses on alignment and precise movements. Yoga props such as blocks and straps are usually used as part of this type of yoga for those beginners who are not as flexible.  Practicing this type of yoga will help you learn classic yoga poses, so that whatever other style you practice, you will have the basic fundamentals on how to do each position.  More information on Iyengar yoga can be found at Yoga for Older Adults.

Hatha yoga is considered a gentle and basic yoga practice. A hatha class will likely be a slow-paced stretching class with some simple breathing exercises and perhaps seated meditation. This is a good place to learn beginners' poses, relaxation techniques and become comfortable with yoga.  More information on hatha yoga can be found here.

Restorative yoga is a passive yoga practice with long holds and little movement that allows your muscles to relax deeply. It additionally involves turning your attention inward, which releases deep tension, helps you relax and restores energy.  

Some yoga studios in Marin County that offer classes appropriate for older adults are the Yoga Works.

Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise is highly beneficial to older adults because it can maintain or increase physical functioning in the areas of walking, balance and strength and improve psychological and cognitive functioning (Rabaglietti, Liubicich & Ciairano, 2010).  

Different forms of aerobic exercise that are low impact and beneficial to older adults are bike riding, swimming, hiking and speed walking.  Fortunately, Marin County is full of beautiful trails and pools for swimming.  Some nice areas to hike are China Camp, the Marin Headlands, Mt. Tamalpais, the Lucas Valley loop and many more. Information on the public hiking trails in Marin county and information on public swimming pools. If you wish to perform aerobic exercise or swimming in a gym, you can become a member of the Conlan Center at Dominican University, the YMCA or 24 Hour Fitness

Strength Training

Strength training helps keep bones strong, increases metabolism, decreases the risk of falling and provides psychological benefits in older adults (Fiatarone, O' Neill, Doyle, & Ryan, 1994). Strength training can either be done at home or at a gym.  A good strength training program for older adults is one that focuses on progressive resistance so that the individual gradually lifts more and more weight. For information on specific workout routines and benefits of strength training for older adults, please click here. Popular gyms in Marin County can be found here.

Social Wellness Dimension

The social dimension of wellness includes interpersonal relationships and healthy social activities such as clubs, affinity groups and social gatherings. Interpersonal relationships are important in promoting healthy aging. Older adults have reported that maintaining positive relationships with other people and obtaining social support is the most important factor affecting successful aging (Cha, Seo, Sok, 2012).   Additionally, studies show that emotional support from a network of social relationships is associated with better cognitive functioning in older adults (Seeman, Albert, Lusignolo & Berkman, 2001).  

Numerous social clubs specifically for older adults in Marin County can be found here.  On this website there are clubs that offer activities such as group exercise, games such as chess, mahjong, bingo, and bridge, parties, luncheons, tours and more.

The Dance Palace Community Center in Marin is an excellent place for older adults to go for socialization, classes, workshops and weekly luncheons. The Mill Valley Senior Club provides many programs including recreational activities like movie matinees, luncheons and day trips. The Novato Senior Citizen’s Club provides many activities for adults 50 years old and older including potlucks, exercise classes, counseling, home delivered groceries and many other services. More information about this club can be found here.

The Margaret Todd Senior Center in Novato, California offers enrichment and fitness courses, special events, game groups, specialty groups, and outreach services that bring people together, encourage social connections, and create new learning experiences. If you’re looking to meet new friends, relax, or just have fun, the Margaret Todd Senior Center is the place for you. 

Intellectual Wellness Dimension

The intellectual dimension of the wellness model includes activities that stimulate the mind such as reading and classes.  College classes can help maintain or improve the cognition of older adults by requiring them to memorize new words/concepts and problem solve, which all contribute to intelligence (National Wellness Institute, 2012).  Dominican University of San Rafael currently offers numerous classes to stimulate the minds of adults over the age of 50 at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI).  OLLI offers six-week courses in topics such as history, music, literature, political science, science and philosophy, all without the stress of homework, tests, and grades.  More information about OLLI can be found here.

A list of numerous different classes and information to promote intellectual growth is offered at the College of Marin.  Book clubs are a way to motivate older adults to read often and to also provide a social environment. There are numerous book clubs in San Rafael that can be readily joined.  The Marin County Library offers books, movies, events, programs and more. 

Spiritual Wellness Dimension

Spirituality is defined as, “A belief in a power operating in the universe that is greater than oneself,” and has been gaining attention within the scientific community for having a positive impact on health (National Wellness Institute, 2012)

Developing or maintaining a spiritual practice can improve coping skills and social support, foster feelings of optimism and hope, promote healthy behavior, reduce feelings of depression and anxiety and encourage relaxation.  By reducing stressful feelings and promoting healing ones, spirituality can positively influence immune, cardiovascular, hormonal and nervous systems (National Wellness Institute, 2013).

A list of all of the local churches in Marin County can be found here and some local spiritual centers are Green Gulch Zen Center, Spirit Rock Meditation Center, The Blue Mountain Center for Meditation and Shambhala.

Emotional Wellness Dimension

Maintaining emotional well being and positive affect can have a significant impact on health. Studies show that older adults with a positive mood live longer than their less content counterparts.  

Older adults are more likely to have a positive outlook on life than any other age group, but depression is still an issue.  Several effective treatments are available for depression in older adults. Pharmacotherapy and several versions of psychotherapy, including interpersonal, brief psychodynamic, problem-solving and cognitive-behavioral, can significantly reduce depression and increase emotional well-being.

The most effective preventative measure against depression for older adults is to regularly engage in physical activity, social participation and maintain a sense of purpose in life.  Information on mental/emotional health and how to get help can be found at Marin Health and Human Services, Jewish Family Services and the Community Institute for Psychotherapy.


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