Family Health

Include Your Older Loved One in These 5 Family Activities

Sixty is the new 40; 70 is the new 50; 80 is the new ... well, you know. Today, an older loved one in your family might reject the "older" classification that defined our parents and grandparents.

Regardless, the real challenge these days is finding healthy physical activities that the entire family -- from the youngest to the oldest -- can enjoy. Kids might be happy sitting in a darkened room staring at the latest popular video game, while college or professional football on TV holds their parents' attention.

And the grands and great-grands? They may not be interested in what's on TV, but they won't necessarily be jumping up to go for a hike. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of men and half of women don't engage in physical activity by their mid-70s. But even in advanced age, it's so important to find ways to get up and moving: A Neurology study shows that a more active lifestyle prevents declines in movement abilities of older people.

If your extended family can spend quality time together and build better relationships while engaging in physical activity, it's nothing but beneficial for everyone involved. Here are five activities you can try as a group:

  1. Walking. Sounds obvious, right? There's no downside to gathering the family for a walk. Plan accordingly if an older loved one needs a cane or wheelchair. Avoid hearing the B-word ("boring") from the kids by turning the walk into a science trek, or add some competition by seeing which cross-generational team can spot the most of a specific type of flower, tree, or animal.
  2. Tai chi. This low-impact, slow-motion exercise is apt for all ages. In tai chi, muscles are relaxed, joints aren't forced, and even people using wheelchairs can participate. If you can't find a local group, why not combine teen tech savvy and tai chi by trying Microsoft Xbox's "Tai Chi for Beginners"? Have the kids take the lead in setting up the game, which is an add-on to "Xbox Fitness."
  3. Gardening. Set aside a small patch of the yard for the entire family. Start by discussing which vegetables are best for the area's environment and, ultimately, for your kitchen table. The younger kids can hop online and do some research while an older loved shares gardening knowledge. Make an outing out of buying seeds or plants, let everyone get their hands dirty in preparing and planting the garden, divide the family into teams for keeping it watered and weeded, and plan a family harvest dinner when the crops are ripe.
  4. Painting pottery. Focusing on creativity rather than exercise, paint-it-yourself pottery stores are a fun option for a rainy-day family event -- plus, you can have a little ice cream after the pots or vases are sent off to be fired. When you bring the pieces home, hand out awards for everyone's efforts.
  5. Apple or pumpkin picking. An afternoon at the apple orchard or pumpkin patch can become a lifelong memory for everyone involved. Find a place where the family can work together to pick apples or select a pumpkin for carving, and bring along a picnic lunch so you can enjoy your bounty outside. Family photos are a natural in this seasonal setting.

In addition to the health benefits for an older loved one, these family activities offer an opportunity to share memories and experiences while keeping the younger family members engaged. If you start planning today, then maybe these activities can become a routine occurrence.

Posted in Family Health

Randy Gerber writes on health topics for print and online blogs in an effort to help people enhance their quality of life and improve the patient experience. Randy has worked on and written about national, local, and personal health care issues for 25 years. Also, he's married to an OB/GYN, which leads to lively dinner conversations.

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*This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.