Today, we kick off Mental Health Week in Canada. As a physician and Chief Medical Officer to thousands of brilliant seniors living in Revera’s retirement and long term care homes, I understand how our mental health impacts our physical health.
Looking after our own mental health is one of the principal factors to our overall well-being. When we are mentally fit, we are more active, in a better position to cope, enjoy life more and the people in it, to learn, try new things, and to live.
Sadly, there is still a stigma surrounding mental illness that can prevent people who are suffering from seeking help or treatment. Mental illness is not a sign of weakness. In fact, one in three Canadians will suffer from a mental health issue at some point in their lives (1). We are also emerging from a long period of isolation brought on by a global pandemic. Social isolation and loneliness have left many of us, and especially older adults, suffering. It has been one of the most physically and mentally trying of times in modern history. While social isolation and loneliness can be experienced at any age, many of the negative outcomes are very specific to those over the age of 65.
“As we age, we are presented with new and unique physical and mental health challenges.”
Let’s face it, we are all aging. Depending on where we are in our own life cycle, we may be presented with new and unique physical and mental health challenges. Older adults often experience challenging events such as retirement, possibly the loss of a spouse or partner, or moving to a smaller home. For many, this can be a joyous time. And it should be. This is the beginning of ‘Life 2.0!’ However, while change can be positive, it can also be difficult. Changes in your physical health such as a loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping or oversleeping, as well as things like avoiding friends and family, feeling overwhelmed, or unusual behaviour and thoughts, may be a sign that you need help with your mental health. Seek advice from your physician if necessary.
The truth is, the older we become the more frequent and complex our health problems become, like reduced mobility, or loss of hearing or vision. Some of us may also feel that our independence is threatened, with younger family members intervening where they might not have in the past. Or you may have stopped driving, or your income may suddenly be less fluid. All of these conditions are new, real, and valid, and they can contribute to a decline in your overall well-being. But they don’t have to.
You are likely taking steps already to adapt and sustain your own mental and physical health. Seeking the right help at the right time can make a world of a difference in ensuring your future comfort, happiness, and safety.
There are many activities and behaviours you can adopt right now to improve your physical and mental health, like playing games that stimulate your brain. Eating healthy means lean proteins like fish and chicken, less red meat, whole grains and nuts and a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables—and remember to hydrate. Stay connected with your friends and family. Take steps to remain mentally and physically stimulated. That may involve taking up or renewing a hobby, volunteering, or even just reading a really good book. I can’t say enough about the benefits of regular physical activity. It doesn’t have to be something you don’t enjoy. Exercise should be fun. Go for a walk, play golf, dance, or try low-impact yoga. If that’s too strenuous for you, try simple chair and balance exercises, anything that keeps your blood pumping and your limbs moving will contribute positively to your overall well-being. Revera follows the dimensions of wellness in its active living programs and you might want to also consider this approach. Adopting a holistic attitude towards your health and well-being will boost your spirits and allow you to live a fuller and more satisfying life.
It is also very important to take ‘me’ time. That means doing something you enjoy. And don’t forget to talk to your physician if you feel you need extra support and guidance.