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You’ve still got it:10 activities for boosting your mental wellbeing later in life

A woman holds hands with a younger woman and looks up at her smiling.
It’s so important that we continue to reach out to others and take notice of the world around us as we get older.

Creating and maintaining a healthy relationship with your mind is a lifelong labour of love that doesn’t stop as you get older. Good mental health is an important part of healthy ageing. Being mentally well lifts your mood, promotes resilience in difficult situations and helps you get the most out of life.

The good news is your age does not define you or your health! You may be older and wiser but there’s always more to learn and do when it comes to looking after your mental wellbeing. These 10 tips will help you be a happier and more resilient you.

1. Keep moving your body

You might think exercise is just good for your body, but it’s also great for your mind. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals like endorphins and serotonin which improve your mood. Regular physical activity can help reduce stress and improve your sleep, which is very important for your mental and physical health. Did you know that when you exercise, more blood gets pumped to your brain, which can also help sharpen your concentration?

Exercising also increases the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for moving information from short-term memory to long-term memory, and spatial memory, which enables navigation. If you needed another reason to exercise, it can also increase the connections between the nerve cells in the brain which enhances your memory and further protects your brain against injury and disease.

The Australian Government says there are four different types of physical activity needed to keep older people healthy:

  • Moderate Activities – for your heart, lungs and blood vessels;
  • Strength Activities – to help maintain bone strength;
  • Flexibility Activities – to help you move more easily;
  • Balancing Activities – to improve your balance and help prevent falls.

For more tips and ideas on exercising read our blog Staying active while staying at home: 5 tips for older Queenslanders

2. Connect with others

Connection with others, whether that be with family, friends, fur friends or the community, is vital for your mental wellbeing at any age. Developing meaningful connections and healthy relationships can raise your self-esteem and lower levels of anxiety and depression. Head to Health, an Australian Government mental wellbeing resource, says that elderly people reported that physical health and more social contact were the two key elements that would help improve their quality of life.

If you feel lonely, you are not alone. A recent study found that 60% of Australians felt lonely despite many of them living with a partner or family member. As we grow older, our risk of becoming socially isolated increases, so remember that reaching out to others does not make you a burden. Next time you’re feeling down you could:

  • invite family over for dinner
  • visit a friend for a weekly coffee catch up
  • call someone you love – life may have taken your family and friends near and far, but you can maintain those long-distance relationships by calling or facetiming
  • send a handwritten letter – it could be a letter to say thank you, a birthday message or even a holiday postcard.

Two women laugh on a couch over cups of coffee.

3. Get out and about

We live in a beautiful corner of the world. Studies have found that people who have a garden or access to the outdoors, or visit parks and nature reserves, often sleep better and have lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression. Great news for Queenslanders!

Going out and experiencing nature and the outside world can give you a greater sense of purpose and independence. Here are some simple ways we can be present in the outside world.

  • catch up with friends for a walk
  • explore art galleries or museums
  • go for a day trip to a National Park or the beach
  • enjoy a meal outdoors – go for a picnic or set up an outdoor dining space at home (Not sure where to go? Find a picnic spot in a national park near you!)
  • visit your local library, community centre or even read the local paper or council website.

4. Challenge yourself with something new

With age comes wisdom and experience, but that doesn’t mean you know everything! Spending time on a new activity that you enjoy can improve your mental health and wellbeing. We all need a reason to get out of bed in the morning. It’s never too late to try something new.

There are many purposeful activities you could try and it might take time to find the right one for you. The hardest part can be starting. Some ideas to get you started:

  • give yoga a go – yoga focuses on strength, flexibility and breathing to boost your physical and mental wellbeing (check out some easy yoga you can do at home)
  • take on a DIY project in your house or backyard
  • learn a language – try Duolingo, a free language learning website and mobile app
  • get creative in the kitchen – try a new recipe every week
  • try photography – go outside and spend time taking photos. You don't need a special camera to capture beautiful colours, textures and reflections
  • listen to a podcast or a guided meditation
  • get lost in a new book – you could also join a local book club. Talk to your local librarian for more information.

5. Give back and help your community

Helping others, giving back and showing kindness and gratitude brings joy to others’ lives and your own. There are countless ways you can choose to volunteer. However, it all comes down to simply taking the time willingly to help someone else without being paid. Volunteering allows you to share your abilities with others, learn new skills and can alleviate loneliness, social isolation and depression as you meet new people and feel a sense of belonging in your community.

Informal volunteering through helping friends, family or neighbours with babysitting, home repairs or caring might suit your lifestyle. You may like to formally volunteer at your local school, hospital or animal shelter. If you’re unable to donate your time, what about donating your unwanted goods or loose change to a good cause. Even the simple practice of saying ‘thank you’ and smiling more could brighten someone’s day.

6. Incorporate more walking and standing into your day

Having the ability to walk without help is something many of us take for granted, but it is one of the strongest indicators of whether someone can live independently. Walking can improve your energy levels and stamina, reduce anxiety and depression and increase your confidence and mood. Increasing your incidental exercise across your day will vastly improve your wellbeing and help combat being sedentary for too long. If you’re able to walk safely, here’s a few small daily practices which will help you move more and sit less:

  • try walking around the house whenever you are on the phone
  • get moving between TV ad breaks or episodes
  • go for a walk with friends rather than catching up over coffee or a drink
  • cook while standing up.

An older man and woman walk together outside holding hands.

7. Prioritise your rest

Did you know that people who reach 80 will have probably spent about 28 of those years asleep? We all know that we need sleep so our bodies and mind can function properly. However, as we get older, sleep can be a bit harder to come by.

Studies have shown that as we age many of us can experience shortened and less restorative sleep, more frequent night-time awakenings, increased time awake in the night, and early morning awakenings. It is generally recommended that people aged 65 and over get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep. Whilst this is easier said than done, here’s a few tips for a good night sleep:

  • consistency is key – try to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day
  • go screen-free before bed
  • relax, unwind and meditate – focus on your breathing before you go to bed and when you wake up
  • try avoiding or limiting naps – sleeping during the day will make it more difficult to nod off at night time. If napping is necessary, limit the duration to 30 minutes and ensure you’re up for at least four hours before going to bed.
  • avoid foods and drinks with caffeine in the hours before bed – did you know that foods like chocolate can have a hit of caffeine in them that might keep you up in the night?

8. Practise being mindful

It can be difficult to accept and appreciate your different pace of life as you get older, especially if you’ve had big life changes like retirement. Growing older brings its share of enjoyment and challenges. For many, our later years are a time for slowing down and enjoying the sweeter things in life, like spending quality time with family and friends. However, some older people may also experience physical illness, personal loss, financial stress, changing living arrangements, increasing social isolation, frailty and loss of independence. These changing circumstances can make it difficult to stay mentally healthy.

Being mindful and taking notice of what is happening in the moment, both in the world around you and in your mind, is so important for our mental health. Try not to spend time worrying about what might happen or could have happened.

Mindfulness is about connecting with your immediate thoughts and feelings without judging them. Practicing mindfulness may be simply taking a deep breath, appreciating the little things like the sound of laughter, a cup of tea, or losing yourself in a project or a great book.

9. Visit Your Mental Wellbeing for Building Blocks and sign up for more wellbeing tips

Check out this great resource for your mental wellbeing which explores the six different areas (or building blocks) of mental wellbeing. You will find a collection of daily activities you can do to improve your mental wellbeing, listed on cards. You can build your personal mental wellbeing activity deck and use these activity cards as a tool on this website. Sign up here for regular wellbeing tips straight to your inbox.

A man sits at his dining table talking on the phone.

10. Reach out for help

Although there is growing awareness of the damaging effects of mental health conditions when left untreated, adults aged 65 years and over are less likely to access mental health services compared to younger adults. Mental health conditions, like anxiety or depression, can affect anyone at any age. You might have thought or been told that a mental health condition was a sign of weakness or a character flaw, but we now know these conditions are a genuine health issue, just like having a cold or the flu. Knowing that these conditions are a normal part of life can help you get support if you need it, and support others around you.

If you’re not feeling well, reaching out to someone about how you’re feeling is the first step, and sometimes the hardest step. Start small by talking to just one person: this may be someone you trust like a family member or a friend. Speaking to your doctor is one of the best things you can do for your mental health as they can help you and refer you to support services that best suit your needs. There are also many excellent support services available, including:

  • Lifeline (for any Australian experiencing a personal crisis) – call 13 11 14 or chat online
  • Suicide Call Back Service (provides professional 24/7 telephone and online counselling to people who are affected by suicide) – call 1300 659 467 or chat online
  • Beyond Blue (provides support to help all Australians achieve their best possible mental health) – call 1300 224 636
  • Griefline (listens, cares and supports people experiencing loss and grief at any stage in life) – call 1300 845 745
  • SANE Australia (national mental health charity working to support four million Australians affected by complex mental illness) – call 1800 187 263

More information

Your Mental Wellbeing

Head to Health

Mental health in retirement

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Last updated: 19 June 2020