Overall wellness can be a little harder to maintain during the winter months than during warmer times of the year, especially for older people. We spoke to staff at some senior centers around the state, who gave us some good advice for winter well-being. They agreed about a handful of general tips:
- Make sure flu and COVID vaccinations and boosters are up to date.
- Drink plenty of water. Cold air and indoor heating systems can cause dehydration.
- Eat well. This sounds obvious, but so-called “comfort food” can lack nutritional value. Meals should contain fruits, whole grains and vegetables.
- Make sure the day includes exercise or movement of some kind.
- Stay connected. Cold weather has a way of keeping people in the house and out of normal social circles.
While winter may have a way of keeping people in the house, there are plenty of ways to stay active and keep the heart pumping without braving the elements. The Council’s Brent Perzentka, a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist and Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapist, recommends finding ways to keep walking inside. “If you live in an apartment, walk the hallways,” he suggests. “Walk in place at home.” If it’s affordable, buying a treadmill, elliptical or stationary bike can be a good investment, as can joining a health club if you have access to transportation. And many apartment buildings, condos and senior residences have fitness rooms, so it’s a good idea to check whether there’s a free exercise option just down the hall.
Sun Prairie resident Rachel Iselin has turned her residence into her very own fitness club. “I have an apartment building that’s three floors,” she explains. “Walking all three floors adds up to about a mile.” How does she know? Rachel wears a watch that counts her steps and reminds her when it’s time to get up and move. A timer on the watch rings at scheduled hours each day to keep her on schedule. “I’ll get up when that thing dings at me!” she laughs.
Rachel believes there are a lot of benefits to staying active. “My mind stays sharp,” she explains. “My body does not ache because you don’t sit too long. And I get to explore people out and about and exchange info. It keeps me socially active.”
Rachel has good advice for people trying to get started on a regular activity routine. “I would say don’t turn the TV on!” she says. “Get up! Walk! Go to the library!”
Cindy Walsh is another Sun Prairie senior who has great advice for people trying to get started with winter activities. Cindy advises people to connect with resources around them. “There’s so many,” she says. “And move! They don’t have to be big moves.” She says even spending time taking care of houseplants keeps movement in her day.
Cindy and her husband George are so active it was surprising she even had time to talk to us about it. Since her vision began to change, she has taken up piano lessons. Cindy and George even have a fun ping-pong rivalry going, using a net set up on a downstairs table. Who’s the champion? “We’re actually pretty evenly matched,” Cindy says.
For people who may not have the space at home to walk or exercise, joining a virtual health club or following a fitness website might be an option. For example, Better5.com is an online health destination with a five-point mission: physical health, mental health, purpose, social connections and independence.
Chair Yoga is another great indoor physical activity that strengthens muscles as it aids with flexibility and balance. There are many virtual chair yoga classes online, but a good one to start with is the Mayo Clinic’s Chair Yoga introduction video.
Staying well during winter also means staying connected with people. Brent recommends creating a list of friends and their phone numbers. Make a habit of calling one friend per day. Video chats and Facetime calls with family members are also great ways to spend social time. Cindy concurs about the benefits of staying socially connected. She schedules monthly three-way calls with her sisters who live in different states. They text frequently between calls.
The activity director at your local senior center can be a great source of information about indoor activity options. Many senior centers are abuzz with programs during the cold winter months. Laura Trotter, Program Volunteer Coordinator at the Stoughton Area Senior Center, agrees with Brent about the importance of socialization and activity during the wintertime. “Staying active in the winter reduces loneliness and isolation,” Laura says. “The people who come to the Stoughton Senior Center are choosing to engage with their peers and stay connected to people.”
Laura says that card games, Wii Bowling League, pool, handcrafts like woodworking and support groups are popular programs. “And our morning exercise classes are year-round favorites that stay popular in the winter,” she adds. New programs offered this winter include yoga, a strength building class, and more presentations by locals who have unique stories to share.