Helping older adults stay happy, healthy and whole
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OpinionGuest Columnist

Helping older adults stay happy, healthy and whole

"Focusing on a holistic and evidence-based approach to 'aging well' will keep us healthy and independent."

Seniors enjoying lunch at J Café (Photo courtesy of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh)
Seniors enjoying lunch at J Café (Photo courtesy of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh)

Staying happy, healthy and whole as you age is not just about covering up new wrinkles, adjusting to stiffer joints or trying to prevent a bit of forgetfulness. Maintaining independence as body and mind go through changes — a natural result of aging — is about all that, and more.

Focusing on a holistic and evidence-based approach to “aging well” will keep us healthy and independent, and feeling great longer so we can continue doing the things we love.

We live in an exceptional community here in Pittsburgh that includes many agencies with services dedicated to the aging continuum. AgeWell at the JCC, at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, has a dedicated team that is ready to help you find your unique path to wellness.

AgeWell at the JCC focuses on programming and services for older adults living independently who want to continue that lifestyle for as long as possible.

On site and virtually, AgeWell at the JCC provides fitness, wellness, education and enrichment; these and many activities and dedicated physical spaces facilitate the piece of the puzzle that is so important to the well-being of many older adults: socialization and community. Putting it simply: At the JCC, older adults can work out, hang out, learn new things and enjoy community. For those who live outside the area or are unable to leave home, the JCC’s Virtual Senior Academy is an online way for older adults to connect, learn and laugh together.

Building and maintaining fitness is so important for all of us, especially older adults. The JCC houses comprehensive SilverSneakers and older adult fitness classes and programs at both the Squirrel Hill and South Hills locations. These group fitness classes are designed for older adults and focus on strengthening muscles and increasing range of movement for daily life activities. The bonus: Working out with others can boost motivation and foster a sense of community.

While you are working on strengthening your body, why not learn a new sport? Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in the country and is a great exercise for your mind and body. Pickleball is a paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, table tennis and badminton. In addition to being a great workout, learning and playing pickleball is about teamwork and socializing — and it’s a blast.

Not interested in hitting the treadmill and squat rack? Swimming and aquatic fitness are great workouts that are easy on the joints. The JCC in Squirrel Hill and the South Hills both house temperature-controlled pools where individuals can swim laps and join friends for Aqua Aerobics — another win-win.

Another key to aging well is keeping an active mind. In-person and virtual programs are offered on weekdays through AgeWell at the JCC including discussion groups, crafts, interesting speakers and special programming. Even if the weather isn’t great, you can still dive into a world of learning and explore new and interesting classes through the Virtual Senior Academy. VSA participants expand horizons and make new friends through live virtual learning experiences on Zoom. So many topics are offered, including health and wellness, arts and music, book clubs, history, current events and much more. Class facilitators are community members who want to share their knowledge and passion.

Did you know that volunteering in your free time has been proven to be good for your physical and mental health? There is a lot of research that has shown the proven health benefits of sharing your time with others. We have opportunities through our CheckMates program, where volunteers make calls to isolated and homebound seniors weekly to decrease loneliness. Our volunteers report back about the relationships they have formed with their new friends over the phone, and it really does benefit the mental health of both the senior and their caller.

We also have wonderful volunteer opportunities in our J Cafe lunch program in the Squirrel Hill JCC. We offer nutritious and tasty kosher lunches made fresh on site on weekdays for registered participants, but the pillar of the program is our volunteers who make it possible. These volunteers help serve, wipe table and assist seniors as needed. The J Cafe offers both our older adults and volunteers the chance to enjoy each other’s company and socialize over a meal.

Besides the programming and services offered here at the JCC, AgeWell at the JCC is part of AgeWell Pittsburgh, an 18-year-old collaborative program of the Jewish Association on Aging (JAA), Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh (JCC) and Jewish Family & Community Services (JFCS), offering a one-stop resource that links older adults, their family members, friends and caregivers to solutions for issues related to aging to maximize health and independence. Together, we can help you find the right resources that you need when you need them.

Everyone has their “why” for wanting to stay healthy. AgeWell at the JCC would love to help you find your “how” for achieving those goals. Stay happy, healthy and whole! PJC

Sharon Feinman is division director of AgeWell at the JCC.

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