Getting older today looks very different than it did 15 or 30 years ago. Seniors are living longer and many are choosing to age in their homes and communities. Baby boomers are reaching retirement age, causing the number of seniors in our communities to rise drastically. In San Francisco alone, it is projected that approximately 25% of all city residents will be over the age of 60 by 2020. (source: HSA Demographic Data)

Many people dream about the freedoms that come with retirement: The ability to travel, pursue new hobbies and spend time with family and friends are activities many aspire to when reaching retirement age. But to realize those golden year dreams and live a vibrant and active life, it is imperative for seniors to stay mentally and physically active. Some benefits of staying active include:

Increase in mental health/cognitive function – Adding exercise routines can slow down the process of aging on the body, and it can reduce the possibility of developing dementia. Activities such as cardio exercise, yoga and dancing are good examples of cognition-boosting senior activities.

Decreased depression – Depression tends to be prevalent among seniors, which is why committing to staying physically active is essential. Exercise helps release endorphins, which have been proven to relieve stress and enhance pleasure. (Source: Duke University Medical Center)

Decreased isolation/loneliness – Socializing is extremely important at any phase of life, but especially important in later years. Seniors who continue to maintain close relationships and/or find other ways to interact socially on a regular basis live longer than those who become isolated. Additionally, relationships and social interactions can help protect against illness by boosting the immune system. (Source: Journal of the American Medical Association)

Fall prevention – One in four seniors fall every year. In fact, falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans (Source: National Council on Aging). However, by staying physically active, falls among seniors can be prevented. Educational workshops and exercise classes help seniors develop and maintain strength, flexibility and balance, all critical components in preventing debilitating falls.

30th Street Senior Center and Always Active

Many seniors have the perception that senior centers are just not for them. This can easily change, by visiting a local senior center. Not only are senior centers a home away from home for many seniors, but also an entertaining place full of lively activities that help seniors maintain a healthy lifestyle. In San Francisco, On Lok 30th Street Senior Center helps seniors stay engaged, healthy, independent and in their communities for as long as possible. The senior center helps seniors stay active with health and fitness activities, performing arts, dance, group outings, brain fitness exercise programs and much more.

On Lok 30th Street Senior Center is also the lead agency for health promoting programs for seniors in San Francisco. In the early 2000s, the senior center became a test-site for Always Active, a San Francisco-based wellness program. Since its inception, On Lok 30th Street Senior Center (with support from our partner agencies San Francisco Department of Disability and Aging Services (DAS), University of San Francisco and San Francisco Senior Centers) has been instrumental in spreading the program city-wide to 21 locations. Because of the success of Always Active, the program will expand to four additional neighborhood locations by June 2018, bringing the city-wide total to 19 locations.

Always Active offers seniors the necessary tools to take control of their health by providing one-hour, total body workouts that incorporate aerobic exercise, strength training, and balance work for a variety of fitness levels. The exercise programs aim to reduce and prevent the incidence of many chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc. The wellness program also offers fall prevention workshops that help seniors improve strength and balance. Additionally, Always Active is a great opportunity to make new friends and learn new skills that enhance the ability to live a healthy, active and long life.

Valorie Villela is director of WELL Senior Programming at On Lok. As the former director of On Lok 30th Street Senior Center, she was instrumental in spreading the Always Active program across San Francisco.