Around a quarter of people over 65 suffer from depression. That’s a huge number of people who are not enjoying life. For some it’s because they are facing difficult medical treatment or are in constant pain or facing death (either their own or a loved ones). Some people feel distressed that they are coming to the end of their life. Many feel lonely or that they are no longer useful. Some feel they are invisible now they have reached a certain age. Some have money worries, but some are just generally down and depressed for no specific reason. Are you one of those people? Here are some evidence-based ways to become happier.
Maybe you need a hearing aid
Many seniors resist the idea of a hearing aid, even when it’s evident to everyone else that they would benefit from one. They make excuses or just refuse to talk about it, often because they see it as a marker of “being old”.
If you’re one of these people, read on.
Some 2019 research from the University of Michigan found that older adults who get a hearing aid for a newly diagnosed hearing loss have a lower risk of being diagnosed with dementia, depression or anxiety for the first time over the next three years. They also have a lower risk of suffering fall-related injuries, than those who leave their hearing loss uncorrected.
I hope this research makes you want to get your hearing checked regularly. When you’re hearing deteriorates slowly over time, it can be difficult to be aware of how much it is deteriorating.
Hearing aids have improved dramatically over the years. I bought my mother a digital hearing aid many years ago and she really struggled with it. I had hearing aids fitted recently and was amazed at how easy they are to use and how much difference they made. It allows me to relax more in difficult situations where I would previously have struggled to hear what people were saying.
The thought of wearing hearing aids may make you shudder and feel old, but straining to hear or withdrawing because you can’t hear make you look old. So have courage and explore this if you need to. Technology is definitely on your side.
Work your skeletal muscles to increase your happiness
Exercise has numerous benefits in helping you feel better about yourself. Here’s one you probably didn’t know about!
Research has shown that physical activity may help to ‘turn on’ genes within skeletal muscles. This can then influence the key metabolic pathways that ultimately promote mood-enhancing chemicals within the brain, which help you to feel happy. Keeping our skeletal muscles strong helps to boost levels of the fell-good chemical serotonin, for example.
The problem is that as we get older our skeletal muscles tend to deteriorate. We feel more fragile and we can do less. This deterioration of our muscles influences those metabolic pathways, meaning that fewer happiness chemicals are produced. Fewer happiness chemicals mean les happiness.
But don’t give up. Researchers in 2019 put some healthy men on an exercise regime. In this case it was strength training and high-intensity workouts on a stationary bike. Researchers analysed blood samples and changes to muscle before and after 3 months of exercise. They found that there was enhanced gene expression within the skeletal muscles, leading to more happiness chemicals produced in the brain.
Of course, you need to keep exercising to keep those muscles strong. You need to work them hard – it’s not enough to go for a leisurely stroll, even if it’s a long one. You need to do load bearing exercises – weight lifting in the gym, resistance training. You need to run or work out hard on a stationary bike or other gym machines. If you feel too old or too unfit to go to the gym, read my blog articles or check out my Instagram posts to inspire you or have a look at my review of the free HASfit home workout videos.
Volunteer to be happy
Older people who volunteer are happier and healthier, so they are less likely to be depressed. It seems obvious when you think about it – volunteering means you are meeting new people, possibly learning new skills and feeling valued and needed.
A 2014 research project confirms all this. The researchers reviewed 73 studies published over the last 45 years involving adults aged 50-plus who were in formal volunteering roles.
The review found that volunteering is associated with reductions in symptoms of depression and better overall health. Volunteers were also living longer than those who didn’t volunteer.
They found that you need to volunteer for 2-3 hours per week to feel the benefit. Volunteering for more hours didn’t increase these benefits but may still be what you want to do.
If you’ve got a chronic health condition you may feel volunteering isn’t for you, but the research found that people like you benefited the most from volunteering.
Happiness.com sums up the nefits of volunteering like this:
“volunteering is beneficial to the doer for a whole host or reasons, including stress reduction, combating depression and providing a sense of purpose.”
You could even decide you wnat to be more politically active. I’ve written a post on the question about being told old to protest against injustice.