Music & Physical Activity Important Parts of ACTIVE AGING

By Dr. Justin Harmon

Someone once asked me why I’m so interested in healthy and active aging for seniors – I told them that I was simply looking out for my own interests; after all, I hope to be an active senior in a few decades!

Much of the focus of my research has been on life course development and how we establish patterns of continuity through our relationships and activities from our formative years, as well as how we find new interests and shed old habits that no longer match our interests, needs, or abilities. The two areas that I explore in the evolution of the aging self are music and physical activity outdoors.

If you’re not familiar with the 2014 documentary, Alive inside: A story of music and memory, you should check it out. It examines the power of music to help those suffering from dementia to recall past memories and cherished experiences and reconnect to their loved ones again. The takeaway from the film is that the things we find so much meaning from in our early lives, like music, have significant staying power in the recesses of our mind. While we are ever-evolving beings, we can still draw great value from a song we first heard – or a hike we took – 50+ years ago. This suggests the importance of having an engaging life filled with friends and opportunities for socialization and recreation, especially as we age. It also suggests that the public sector needs to provide the forums for people of all ages to do just that.

In Greensboro, many seniors look to the Smith Senior Center (SSC), a facility run by the Greensboro Parks and Recreation Department. Recently, staff of the parks department have embarked on a project to completely renovate the park that abuts the SSC to encourage an active outdoor environment. Currently, most seniors do their exercising indoors at the SSC, but by late spring of 2019, there will be a pickleball court installed outside, with an accompanying social and reflective area to wind down after a match – or simply to sit and enjoy watching your friends play. This is only the first stage in a complete overhaul of the outdoor portion of the facility: other improvements, including bocce ball, horseshoes, and a walking path, are in consideration for the near future.

Music has an uncanny ability to connect people to important milestones and memories of our life, strengthening our sense of self and personal wellbeing, as well as our relationships with others. The same can be said about physical activity, too. Maintaining a healthy regimen of exercise not only will help to keep the body fit, but it has been shown to improve symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as lower blood pressure and help maintain a healthy nervous system. Time spent outdoors boosts your immune system, helps you sleep, and increases your focus.

So, grab your smartphone, put on your favorite playlist from your childhood, and go for a walk in a beautiful natural environment. You just might find it makes your day!

Justin Harmon, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Community and Therapeutic Recreation at UNCG. He and his dog, Worry, spend a minimum of 90 minutes exercising outdoors every day.


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