By Donna Robinson
“Grandma, let’s go for a walk, okay?” This is such a simple request from a grandchild, and no doubt heard by many grandparents. Staying active is one of the best ways to keep up with those “little feet.”
Beth Horvath, health and wellness director for the Lake County YMCA, Central Branch, said the benefits of a grandparent staying active have three components:
— Socialization. Some older people live on their own and don’t have a lot of interaction with others. This keeps them happy and gives them a feeling of belonging.
— Health. Exercise acts like medication in a lot of cases. It can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and reduce risks for diabetes and heart disease. Strength exercises help build bone mass, which wards off osteoporosis. It also burns calories, so it can help keep weight in check.
— Accomplishments and challenges. When we see that we’re getting stronger, we feel proud of ourselves, and it gives us a sense of overall well-being.
“There are plenty of benefits for grandparents staying active,” says Kerri Davidson, director of the Willowick Senior Center. “Their mental state of mind stays sharper and they have a more positive outlook on life by staying active in social settings. Having to remember appointments, classes or social engagements is also good for your memory. If they are participating in more active activities, such as line dancing or even Wii bowling, they are strengthening their muscles and increasing the time they can stay independent in their homes.”
Ways To Keep Moving
Activities at senior centers in general have a vast appeal in the mindset of many aging adults.
“I know there have been a handful of seniors who have told me how thankful they are to have the senior center to go to since their spouse has passed away,” says Davidson. “They say otherwise they would just be staring at the walls at home. Just going to a senior center and enjoying a cup of coffee and maybe engaging in a conversation with someone can mean the world.”
Not only do the senior community centers have ways to stay socially active, they (as well as local YMCAs) also have a variety of fitness activities for seniors to enjoy. They can also participate in a dance or art class at their city’s recreation center.
“There are different types of exercise that are important for different things,” Horvath says. “For example, a water arthritis class for seniors will target range of motion in joints. They will work every joint in their bodies during that class. The water is warm, supportive and provides resistance for the gentle exercise they do.”
“We make all kinds of modifications for people when it comes to exercise, because we’re all different,” Horvath notes. “Some people have issues from aging, but even young people can have issues. One thing we have learned at the Y is, older people don’t want to be ‘babied.’ Our seniors want to work hard. We are mindful that there may be some limitations, but there are always ways to work around them.”
JoAnn Mason, director of the Donna Smallwood Activities Center and Office on Aging in Parma adds, “Our seniors love line dancing; we have a yoga stretch program and a chair exercise program and these are all twice a week. They also have their usual games to keep sharp like Bingo and cards; pinochle and bridge.”
Most senior centers and senior-minded communities offer one-day bus trips for the on-the-go senior, like a trip to the casino, “Lolly the Trolley,” Island Cruising and viewing covered bridges in Northeast Ohio. Seniors can also schedule out-of-state fun overnight trips/tours to Toronto, Sugar Creek, Amish Country and even Boston.
“I feel we are quite mindful of those who have limitations,” Davidson says. “For example, we don’t discourage someone who uses a walker to not participate in one of our trips. There is always someone around who is willing and able to assist someone if they may need it. We also accept donations of walkers, wheelchairs, canes, etc. and we loan them out to anyone who may need it, free of charge.”
Spending Family Time
There are many fun activities Grandma and Grandpa can partake in with their grandchildren. One is the cornhole toss, a game that has taken off in popularity. Grandparents can also take the grandchildren on a historical tour, teach them how to make crafts, take them to free concerts in the park or church festivals and help them pick out books at the library.
Davidson says usually once or twice a year, during summer vacation or Christmas break, the senior center plans a grandparent/child activity. “This July, we will be showing the Disney movie ‘Frozen’ and having an ice cream social where they are encouraged to bring their grandchildren. In the past, we have had a hot dog luncheon and had a Willowick police officer bring his police dog to perform some demonstrations.”
Horvath says, “Keeping fit and healthy is important to seniors so they can be active with their grandchildren. When we teach classes, we cue participants by talking about performing everyday activities, for example, lifting toddlers by using your legs, or taking your grocery bags out of your trunk. What we have heard from our seniors is that they notice they can play with their grandkids better now that they are exercising regularly. We encourage active family time in our adventure center and also at our Outdoor Family Center in Perry. It’s a perfect place to swim, skate, climb and play for all generations.”
“Grandparents should stay active to keep up with their grandkids if they are able to,” Davidson says. “This will aid in them having a closer relationship for a longer period of time. Being active in general does help your mental, emotional and physical well-being.”
Whether Grandma or Grandpa is at the home of their grandchildren, or somewhere else, witnessing one’s grandchildren grow year by year, is what being a grandparent is all about — it gives them purpose, and drives them to care, but mostly to love, and there is nothing better than that.