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Winter Exercise Tips for Seniors

We all need exercise at any age, and the National Institute of Aging recommends at least 30 minutes of vigorous activity in your routine every day.

Physical activity helps older adults improve and maintain balance, flexibility, muscle strength, and endurance. But when the winter comes, it’s not easy to get outside for those brisk walks or a leisurely bike ride. Between the colder temperatures, snow and ice, many seniors take their exercise indoors for safety and comfort. Here are some ways to keep active this season.

Dancing. Whether ballet or foxtrot, dancing keeps minds and bodies healthy. You can dance alone, with a partner or in a group, and enjoy music at the same time. Ballet steps and poses have been shown to improve posture and dancing in general is a great way to enjoy social time with friends. As with any form of exercise—particularly as we get older—it’s important to stretch and warm up beforehand, and be careful not to overdo it.

Yoga. This popular form of exercise, combined with elements of mindfulness, is a wonderful year-round activity. It’s gentle, quiet, and low impact and you can do yoga in a chair. Yoga is said to increase flexibility, help improve balance and strength, and lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety. Poses can be easily modified to avoid injury or to accommodate physical needs or restrictions, while still providing great benefit. Several JCHC communities offer yoga and balance & mindfulness classes for residents to work on their balance, stretching, and stress reduction.

Gym workouts. Weight-bearing exercise is good for bone health and a light cardio workout is important for young and old alike. Treadmills, stair climbers, recumbent bikes, weight machines, and more provide many options for maintaining muscle tone and cardiac health. Working with a personal trainer or instructor will ensure you are using the equipment properly and are handling the right weights for your level of fitness and ability. Lester Senior Living in Whippany and Village Apartments in South Orange have nicely equipped fitness rooms with a variety of equipment and space for exercise classes.

Swimming. This low-impact form of exercise improves balance, flexibility, endurance, and strength. Senior aquacise is a popular and fun swim class. Moving gently in the water can provide benefit for seniors who have limited mobility, and water exercise may be helpful for those with arthritis or joint pain.

Walking. Walking outdoors gives you fresh air along with the exercise but indoor walking is a fine way to keep moving. Make sure you wear sneakers or comfortable walking shoes, that the area is well lit, and that the track or route is free of trip hazards. Mall walking with a small group is popular—many shopping malls have early hours before the stores open for mall walkers. Find out if a local community center or senior center has an indoor walking track or an area suitable to walk. Residents at Jewish Federation Plaza in West Orange enjoy walking the Promenade, which connects the buildings.

Benefits of exercise for seniors
Regular exercise activities such as those noted above are key factors in helping prevent falls. Exercise that strengthens and tones muscles, improves mental state and alertness, and keeps bodies more limber will enhance one’s balance.

Aerobic exercise (such as using a treadmill or bike, or swimming) is good for the heart and lungs, and improves oxygen flow which is good for the brain as well. Incorporating arm movements into walking helps pump up the workout.

Simple stretching—before or during an exercise class—helps combat the loss of elasticity many older adults deal with, which decreases range of motion. Staying limber helps one perform many daily tasks—think of how many times we reach for things every day.

Regardless of what type of exercise you enjoy, make sure it’s comfortable and suited to your abilities, and remember to listen to your body. It’s good to challenge yourself somewhat but don’t push yourself too hard—it’s not a competition!

Making the Transition to a Retirement Community

Moving from your long-time home to a retirement community brings about a lot of change which can be difficult for many people. Leaving the place where many memories were created can bring up strong emotions, moving away from old friends or the thought of going to a new place may trigger feelings of uncertainty.

However, moving into a retirement community also means starting a new chapter of life—one that brings new opportunities for discovery with peers.

Benefits of living in a retirement community
If you’re moving from a private home or condo, you’ll leave behind the cares of maintaining or upgrading a home. No more worries about the roof or siding, appliance repair, lawn maintenance, sidewalk repairs, snow removal, and so many other expensive or time-consuming tasks.

Do you like to visit family and friends for long weekends or plan nice vacations? Forget security systems or asking neighbors to check on the house. Just close the door and go, knowing your home is secure.

Best of all, senior living enables you to age in place, safely and with dignity. There’s always staff around, programming is designed to keep seniors active and engaged, and the residences are built with older adults’ needs at the forefront.

If you’re an older adult considering the move, here are some things to keep in mind.

Getting familiar with senior residences
Visit several senior living communities to get a feeling for the type of environment or lifestyle best suits your preferences or needs. Some considerations are:

  • Would you like senior housing with a range of services and programs?
  • Would you like to open your apartment door every day to an array of activities?
  • What about the amenities offered?
  • While touring the communities, take a ride around the area as well so you have a good idea of where town services, stores, and restaurants are located.
  • Ask if you can sample a meal in the dining room (where you’ll also have a chance to meet and chat with residents). If you have specific dietary needs, find out if those can be met.

Settling into your new home
When you move into your new home, place some favorite photos or special keepsakes in your apartment to help it feel more familiar (along with furniture pieces you’ve brought with you). If you’re feeling a bit adventurous, you might consider buying some new furniture to give your apartment a fresh look. Have fun with it!

Once you move in, make sure to try out some of the offerings so you get familiar with your new surroundings and get acquainted with your neighbors. Whether it’s a class, lecture, or movie night, participating in all that’s available will help you meet like-minded people with whom to share this life chapter. Staying open to new experiences will help you write a new story for yourself. Perhaps you will:

  • Learn a new hobby or creative pursuit like painting, knitting, or poetry
  • Engage in adult learning classes about new topics
  • Join a book club or discussion group.
  • Go on an outing to a place you’ve never visited before

Widen your social circle
Remember that you’ll be surrounded by new neighbors who will welcome you, and a support staff that’s eager to make you feel at home. Talk to your fellow residents about their experiences, the kinds of programs they enjoy, and give yourself time to acclimate to your surroundings and your new acquaintances—some of whom will soon become your friends. Many seniors find that when they establish those personal connections, they feel truly at home. That’s when the fun can really begin!

At the JCHC, our senior living communities offer older adults a variety of services, programs, and amenities—and many ways to write a new chapter that enriches their lives. Contact our team for information about independent living, assisted living, and memory care options in Essex County and Morris County, NJ.

Pet Therapy Brings Comfort and Joy to Seniors

Leo the therapy shih tzu loves when his owner, Sandy Stoll, brings him for visits with residents at Jewish Federation Plaza.

There are many benefits of canine therapy in for seniors. While people often think of the furry therapists as visiting hospitals, rehab centers and nursing homes, many do not realize that older adults in senior living communities also benefit from these visits.

Science has proven that interaction with gentle, friendly pets:

  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Reduces anxiety and depression
  • Enhances mood
  • Diminishes physical pain
  • Produces a relaxation response
  • Increases socialization, decreases feelings of isolation

Why animal therapy works
Spending time bonding with an animal produces serotonin in the brain—the hormone that makes us feel good or happy—along with other chemicals that foster a sense of calm. Whether it’s stroking or brushing out an animal’s fur, giving a treat (and getting grateful puppy eyes looking back), or simply sitting together (perhaps with a dog’s head or paw in one’s lap), those moments are quite beneficial for older adults.

Pets are non-judgmental and are quite empathic—they sense a person’s moods (and often know whom to approach in the room in order to provide comfort); and service dogs sense changes in heart rate or other physical markers. Pet therapists also play a role in reducing the agitation and confusion associated with sundowning in people with dementia.

Although animals don’t communicate with us verbally, their gentle manner and acceptance can be soothing to people who may have trouble communicating with language. Interacting with a pet therapy animal can also help get seniors talking about their own pets from long ago, providing opportunities for socialization and sharing stories with each other.

At the JCHC, residents in our communities enjoy periodic visits from canine therapists and enjoy connecting with these loving animals. Given the beautiful interactions, these visits are clearly a treat for both humans and dogs.

Tips for Seniors to Maintain a Healthy Blood Pressure

Photo credit: soc7 on pixabay

High blood pressure (also called hypertension) is a common issue—and major health problem—among many older adults. High blood pressure can lead to other dangerous conditions in the kidney, the eye, and heart. It can be controlled with medication and by adopting a healthier lifestyle. But what exactly constitutes and causes high blood pressure in seniors?

Blood pressure measures the force of one’s blood pushing against the artery walls. That inflatable cuff and the stethoscope are checking your systolic and diastolic pressure—the first being the pressure caused by your heart contracting and pushing out blood and the second when the heart relaxes and fills with blood. Your blood pressure is typically read and records as systole over diastole; a normal number for adults is under 120/80.

As we age, the chance for high blood pressure increases due to changes in our vascular system. Men are more likely to have hypertension before age 55 and women after menopause.

What’s a normal blood pressure reading?
The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology now define hypertension for most adults as 130 or higher for the first number and 80 or higher for the second number. There are different kinds of hypertension, depending on which way those systole and diastole numbers go from there. However, everyone is different, so a medical evaluation of one’s overall health and fitness is a good first step in diagnosing and addressing high blood pressure. If you are feeling lightheaded upon standing quickly or are short of breath during light physical activity, you should be checked for hypertension right away.

Conversely, hypotension is low blood pressure (lower than 90/60); it is often caused by dehydration, blood loss, medications, or a medical condition. With the heat of summer upon us, we remind everyone to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. You might not feel thirsty, per se, but your body is feeling it in other ways.

Controlling blood pressure in seniors
There are some ways you can keep your blood pressure in the healthy range:

  • Adopt a low-fat diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean meats. A low-salt DASH diet might also help; it encourages you to reduce the sodium in your diet and eat foods rich in nutrients that help lower blood pressure, such as potassium, calcium and magnesium. Read the labels on all processed foods, which often contain high levels of sodium.
  • Watch your weight!
  • Moderate your alcohol consumption – alcohol can affect blood pressure (and puts on weight).
  • Get some moderate exercise every day, whether it’s walking the halls, taking it slow but steady on the treadmill or exercise bike, taking a Zumba™ Gold class, or doing some chair yoga. (Make sure your physician clears you for exercise before getting started.)
  • Don’t smoke – quitting at any age is better than risking hypertension, heart disease, or stroke.
  • Get enough sleep
  • Relax and manage stress

Also be sure to tell your doctor about any vitamins or supplements you are taking, which could affect blood pressure.

Remember: You could feel absolutely fine but have early signs of hypertension you are not aware of. Therefore, routine blood pressure checks are wise for seniors to do, in order to detect a rise in pressure that may require you to change your diet, engage in exercise (mindfulness & meditation classes can do wonders!), or perhaps take prescription medication.

Keeping our seniors healthy at the JCHC
Residents at the JCHC communities are doing their part by participating in our weekly exercise classes, which include balance, mindfulness & meditation, and physical exercise; residents at Village Apartments and Lester Senior Living are using the equipment in the communities’ fitness centers; and at Jewish Federation Plaza, walking club members enjoy cruising the promenade that connects the buildings. We also encourage everyone who is able to get out during the early morning or late afternoon hours to enjoy a walk in the fresh air and sunshine—it’s good for the body and the soul!

The Benefits of Lifelong Learning for Seniors

In the 1990s, brain research showed that a stimulated mind promotes a healthy brain and helps us retain mental alertness as we age. In fact, scientists discovered that even an aging brain can grow new connections and pathways when challenged and stimulated. It appears that learning new skills or taking up new hobbies can help boost memory and improve quality of life.

  • In 2001, a research study by neurologists at Case Western Reserve University found that seniors who engaged in mentally challenging or intellectually stimulating activities were 2.5 times less likely to have Alzheimer’s disease.
  • A similar study at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School also found that seniors who enjoyed higher levels of intellectual stimulation throughout their lifetimes had a marked delay in the onset of memory problems and dementia-related symptoms.
  • Researchers in the U.K. found that reading lowers stress levels, slows heart rate and eases muscle tension. Reduced stress is significant because it decreases blood pressure, reduces risk of stroke or heart attack, boosts immunity, and lowers levels of depression.

Our retirement years present an excellent opportunity to take advantage of free time to learn about subjects of long-time interest or learn something new. It is no longer unusual for older adults to advance their education by attending and graduating college or pursuing a graduate degree. Enriching and stimulating one’s mind and overall outlook on life is what lifelong learning is all about.

In addition to keeping brains more nimble, certain lifelong learning activities keep the body active, such as creative arts or mindfulness programs. Lifelong learning programs also offer opportunities to socialize, whether those happen during discussion groups, educational field trips or arts presentations with like-minded individuals.

Community colleges, senior centers, and others offer many classes for seniors, who can explore topics of interest through survey courses and seminars. Lucky for our residents, the JCHC also offers a variety of enriching educational and enrichment programs right in our senior living communities. These include:

  • Creative arts classes – poetry and memoir writing, fine arts, and floral art
  • JCHC University – this past semester, courses were taught by college-level instructors who covered politics and government, literature, the arts, critical thinking, and family dynamics in the Torah
  • Art appreciation lectures and cultural presentations
  • Field trips to area museums and attraction
  • Lifelong Learning – a program run by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest’s Joint Chaplaincy Committee in partnership with the JCHC

Lifelong Learning was conceived and launched in 2011 by Jay Murnick, a past president of the JCHC board of trustees, to provide continued Jewish learning to our seniors on a variety of Jewish-themed topics. The weekly educational program, which changes every year, is taught by community teachers, rabbis, and cantors. Every year; participating seniors study Jewish texts and discuss a variety of topics that interest them.

In addition, our communities offer discussion groups about current affairs and other areas of interest, and various clubs that enable our residents to broaden their horizons or participate in activities they’ve long enjoyed. From mindfulness to knitting to walking, we’re always finding ways to keep our seniors active in mind and body at the JCHC.

Music is Good for the Soul—and Health—at Any Age

As babies, we fell asleep to lullabies. As young children, many of us enjoyed banging on drums and participating in singalongs. When we got older, we danced to popular tunes and turned up the volume in the car radio when a favorite song came on. During one’s retirement years, there are many reasons to continue enjoying music.

From piano concerts to drum circles, listening to and participating in musical activities have been shown to be quite beneficial to older adults. Music helps relieve stress and may sharpen cognition. It’s a big factor in the success of the Music & Memory® program (which we have implemented in the Memory Care Suite at Lester Senior Living). The American Music Therapy Association cites studies pointing to music activities providing comfort and relief to seniors with dementia.

Listening to music affects our moods, triggers memories, and gets us talking to each other. It has also been shown to reduce pain and recovery time from injury, increase relaxation and lower heart rate, and allow for a better night’s sleep. Music provides motivation when exercising, and dancing to music is great for increasing mobility. Taking music lessons at an older age also helps keep minds sharper as well (as does a great game of “Name that Tune”).

There is research that supports music’s positive effect on mental and physical health, and its value to older people in particular. How many of us can relate to that feeling of well-being as we hum along to a beautiful tune, or that relaxed feeling when we hear a ballad?

At the JCHC, our communities offer residents many ways to enjoy the joys of music, including:

  • Seminars on jazz greats and classical music
  • Live performances by musicians and singers
  • Musical holiday celebrations
  • Presentations on famous composers and different music genres
  • Drum circles, Kids’ Cookies n’ Concerts performances by area students, and dances

The JCHC has also hosted symphony concerts with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra that were absolute delights for all who attended.

All of these programs, which are often interactive, are always well attended. They are living proof that music is uplifting for everyone in the room—at any age.

A Chance to Plant the Seeds for Future Generations of Our Seniors

With the calendar year ending and tax planning on many people’s minds, it’s a good time to remind our residents, their families and our supporters about JCHC’s Circle of Life legacy giving program.

This philanthropic opportunity enables anyone to make an after-lifetime gift to the JCHC that will support our future residents’ needs and enrich their lives for generations to come.

Making a pledge now to the Circle of Life is a beautiful way to create a lasting legacy and reflect how our communities have touched lives. Your pledge plants the seeds of meaningful tzedakah and anyone of any means can do so. There are several ways in which to make a legacy donation, including:

  • Bequest in your will
  • Designation from a life insurance policy or retirement plan
  • Charitable remainder trust
  • Estate or business interest

To date, 20 individuals have pledged to our Circle of Life with planned gifts in excess of $50,000. Pledging any amount to the JCHC’s Circle of Life legacy program will help us fulfill our mission to always provide high-quality senior housing with services that enhance our residents’ lives. You’ll be making a lasting impact with your testamentary gift and by donating to the JCHC, a non-profit organization, your estate will be making a charitable tax-advantaged contribution.

As you sit down with your tax or estate planning professional, we invite you to discuss how becoming a Circle of Life legacy donor can make a difference to your estate and our residents and support what is important to you. To learn more, visit www.jchcorp.org/legacyprogram or contact Harold Colton-Max at haroldc@richardc95.sg-host.com or (973) 530-3961.

Winter Wellness & Safety Tips for Older Adults

The winter months are here—with cold temperatures, dry air, and snow and ice. Here are some tips to help seniors stay safe and well this season.

  • Home safety. Smoke and CO2 detectors are essential when windows are shut tight. If you use a space heater, turn it off when you leave. Protect against indoor trip hazards by removing clutter, low tables, electrical cords and throw rugs. If you have difficulty adjusting to changes in light, keep rooms well lit. Use night lights in the hallway and bathroom.

Outside, wear closed comfortable shoes or boots with rubber soles to avoid slips. If you use a cane or walker, make sure the rubber tips are in good condition so they don’t slip on wet surfaces. If you are in your own home, make sure someone shovels and de-ices your outdoor steps and walkways.

  • Bundle up. Seniors are less able to regulate their body temperature, putting them at increased risk of hypothermia in cold weather. Keep the thermostat set at a comfortable temperature, avoid sudden exertion, and wear layered clothing outdoors to retain body heat. Wear a hat or head scarf, keep hands and feet warm, and protect your ears against harsh weather.

The cold air and indoor heaters may cause dehydration so drink plenty of water and use moisturizers to avoid itchy winter skin. TIP: Indoor plants give off moisture and oxygen, and the colors brighten up a grey day.

  • Eat well. Comfort foods feel good but lack quality nutrition. Include fruits, vegetables and whole grains to maintain optimal nutrition and well-being. (They may also help with digestion and may lower cholesterol and blood sugar.) Add lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts to your diet; consume low-fat or fat-free milk products; and limit unhealthy fats, sodium and added sugars. Remember your vitamins and supplements!

At the JCHC communities, we prepare fresh, nutrient-packed homemade soups for residents who are on meal plans (they are also available for purchase at Lester Senior Housing’s General Store). A bowl of delicious hot soup in the winter is a great way to support our seniors’ well-being with immune-boosting ingredients and a healthy dose of care in every spoonful.

  • Exercise. Daily exercise helps keep your body strong and your mood positive. Try to get fresh air and sunshine, even on cold days, as sunlight provides Vitamin D which aids in strengthening bones. Cold weather walks can burn more calories, an added benefit. Take it slow until you are warmed up, and stay hydrated.

Choose fitness classes that help stretch, tone and strengthen muscles, promote relaxation, and improve coordination and cardiac health; better coordination and balance enhance wintertime safety by helping to prevent falls. These are all reasons why we offer a variety of regularly scheduled exercise classes at all four JCHC communities.

Treadmills and stationery bicycles—like the ones in the fitness centers at Lester Senior Living and Village Apartments—also provide a safe, low-impact workout.
Outdoors not an option? Walk indoors (as many do along the promenade at Jewish Federation Plaza), do chair exercises, or swim at an indoor pool.

  • Stay connected. Make sure you have someone who checks in on you periodically, in person or by phone—a friend, neighbor or relative. An important benefit of living in a senior/retirement community is that one always has neighbors and a staff around, and at JCHC communities, individual 24-hour emergency alert system in every apartment.
  • Stay socially active. Fight winter blues by getting out and sharing social, cultural and educational activities with others. Explore new interests in a group setting. You’ll feel better! If you’re wondering what our residents are up to on any given day at one of our senior living communities, check our calendars online. Several programs a month are open to area seniors at Village Apartments: the Tuesday programs (4:00 p.m.) and the Wednesday afternoon discussion group and knitting club.
  • Join us for lunch – We invite area seniors who’d like to sample our food—including our delicious, homemade, hearty soups—to enjoy a complimentary lunch in Café Ruth, our casual bistro at Lester Senior Living. Café Ruth is open Monday through Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and serves soups, salads and sandwiches. It’s also open to the public to enjoy a light lunch—great for those who work in the area, are running errands nearby, or have finished a morning workout at the neighboring Lautenberg JCC.

If you’d like to enjoy lunch on us in our bistro and tour the community, contact David Rozen at (9730 929-2725 or davidr@richardc95.sg-host.com.

Tips for Seniors on Staying Safe in Summer Heat

As June came to an end, much of the United States was stuck in an oppressive heat wave; in fact, cities as far north as Montreal were experiencing extreme heat and humidity. Being the summer, this won’t be the last heat wave.

Exposure to heat can result in heat-related illnesses, especially for seniors, whose bodies are less able to regulate their temperatures and cool themselves. When our bodies heat rapidly or when we lose fluids and salt due to perspiration or dehydration, common conditions are cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke. In some cases, hyperthermia (absorbing more heat than our bodies can handle) is fatal. Older adults can also be more sensitive to sun.

Warning signs of heat-related illnesses
Heat exhaustion is typified as dehydration due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures. Symptoms include muscle cramps, headache, dizziness, fatigue and confusion.

Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related condition. Heat stroke is dehydration coupled with the body physically overheating and unable to bring down its own temperature. The most obvious sign is a body temperature of 104° or higher. Other symptoms include distorted mental state, flushed skin, nausea, vomiting, rapid breathing, and racing pulse.

NOTE: Did you know that certain chronic conditions and medications increase a senior’s risk of heat stroke? You are wise to consult with your medical practitioner about optimal fluid intake and medication management during periods of extreme heat. If you are in an assisted living environment, the nursing staff and medication aides can help.

Staying safe in high heat
These simple precautions can keep seniors safe during the year’s hottest months.

  • Stay in the shade when possible
  • Stay indoors during the hottest part of the day, usually 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Wear protective clothing outdoors – hats, sunglasses, light-colored clothing
  • Use sunscreen (SPF 50)
  • Stay hydrated – drink plenty of water and avoid caffeine and alcohol, which dehydrate the body. Don’t rely on feeling thirsty, just drink! Our bodies lose moisture even when we are not sweating heavily.

Staying cool indoors
Even when indoors during very hot weather, it is important to stay hydrated, especially if the air conditioning is not working or if you are keeping it at a moderate temperature to reduce energy consumption (fans that circulate the air are somewhat helpful but don’t do enough to help cool down your body). Visit a local cooling center if you are out and about or need access to air conditioned spaces: public libraries, senior centers, shopping malls, movie theaters, and community centers.

Additional indoor cooling tips during periods of extreme heat include:

  • Cool drinks, such as water, iced herbal teas, and lemonade help moderate the body’s temperature and refresh.
  • Wear lightweight layers you can add or take off as needed; cotton and other natural fibers are best because they breathe and won’t trap heat.
  • Eat cool snacks such as frozen ice pops, frozen grapes or berries, and frozen peas.
  • Choose light, cold meals over hot, heavy dishes. Think salads—grain or pasta, tuna, egg and tossed—over pot roast or lasagna.
  • Place a cool washcloth on the back of your neck; keep a pan of cool water handy to re-cool the towel. Taking a cool shower, bath, or washcloth wipe-down is also effective, especially when the water is just below body temperature.
  • Sit with your feet in a pan of cool (not cold) water.

If you are still in your own home, it’s advisable that you have someone call or check on you during times of very hot (or cold) weather. It doesn’t take much to feel the effects of heat exhaustion and it may be difficult to call for help when you need it.

Of course, if you reside in a senior living community, you’ll have access to cool spaces, plenty of refreshing beverages, an emergency call system, and peers and a helpful staff to look in on you or lend assistance. That’s just one reason why so many seniors choose independent or assisted living options at JCHC communities. We’re happy to tell you about all the other reasons at Village Apartments of the Jewish Federation in South Orange and Lester Senior Housing Community in Whippany. Contact us for more information and a tour.

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