Growing older: how do you keep happiness alive?

Laughter lines, your first gray hairs, and wisdom – those are the first signs of aging. And time doesn’t just lead to wisdom. It often leads to a healthy dose of self-esteem, self-knowledge, and happiness as well. But what happens when those signs are trailed by neck pain, RSI, or insomnia due to cramping? Those aren’t just physical barriers; they also impact your degree of life satisfaction.

Ouder worden.png

That being healthy makes you feel good isn’t something new. And yet, staying healthy remains a challenge for many, especially when you’re getting on in years. When we age, the first thing we notice is often the physical aspect. In your head, you often still feel young, fit, and ready to grab life by the horns. But what happens if rushing to catch a train increasingly results in arriving at an empty platform, out of breath, with a stitch in your side, and achy knees. Or what if getting up from the toilet suddenly becomes a daily trial? How about persistently winding up in the middle of the crosswalk when the signal turns red? How do you cope with these changes?

That your body will decline as you get older? That’s a fact. How you feel about it, though, is up to you. People generally tend to compare their current health with the period of life when they were in the best shape, i.e., their peak health. That peak is often between the ages of 20 and 30. If, as a 50-year-old, you're still holding onto the hope that you'll have the same body you had at 20, it can be a rude awakening. But letting go of that desire is the first step to living a happier, healthier life. Growing older is special and can be fun; you’ve got the right to enjoy it! And it doesn’t mean you should just give up on trying to be a healthier you. Improving your health, e.g., through diet or exercise, actually increases your life satisfaction – whether you achieve your 20-year-old body's goals or don’t quite hit the bullseye.

So, the logical conclusion seems to be that dieting and exercise lead to better health and, consequently, happiness. But it’s not that simple. A survey of 240 seniors between the ages of 66 and 75 shows that their happiness mainly depends on social contact. The conclusion drawn by the study is that when social contact is absent and you no longer have (close) family or friends as an elderly person, it directly affects your health and happiness. This lack of social contact can sap or destroy the motivation to better your health. It feels like a vicious circle. Happiness (partially dependent on social contact) is required to motivate you to exercise, but... You need to exercise to boost your happiness.

That actually results in the following senior's checklist for living a happier life:

  • Social contact
  • Exercise
  • Health
    Bike Labyrinth started out with this checklist in mind. (Okay, if you've read Ella's story about our roots, then you know that’s not entirely true... but it still kind of is.). When Bike Labyrinth was being developed, we didn’t just look at how exercise could be made more fun; we also looked into how exercise could promote social contact. We achieved the best of both worlds on discovering that Bike Labyrinth is the perfect icebreaker (even for clients who aren’t very chatty). It’s easy to initiate a low-key conversation about what someone sees, or maybe even recognizes, on their bike route, or you could just ask about their favorite town or village. For those working in the care sector, it’s a convenient opening to a subject that most people like to talk about. Even people with dementia are frequently more than capable of talking about their past. You could install Bike Labyrinth in a public space that other residents frequently pass, giving them a chance to watch, have a chat, and then go on their way. After all, discussing a shared favorite route or location over a cup of coffee turns an average day into something a little more enjoyable. If you listen to our customer's stories, then you know that the sky’s the limit. For an example, check out our interview with psychomotor therapist Johan Hilverts.

    Aside from how Bike Labyrinth helps enhance the social lives of the elderly, it also makes exercise accessible and fun. For instance, as you cheerfully bike your favorite virtual routes, you also reap extra rewards, e.g., feeling fitter and happier. And we’re not the only ones to have discovered that this is how it works in practice. Others have observed how virtual innovations play a major role in improving health, which, consequently, improves life satisfaction. Researchers assembled two groups of thirty elderly people. One group participated in a 15-minute virtual reality session for six weeks, twice a week. The other group didn't. Afterward, a “happiness test” and a physical (conducted before and after the study) demonstrated that the first group's scores for both had significantly improved compared to the no-VR sessions group. The study concludes that the elderly group who participated in VR sessions showed significant improvement in quality of life, life satisfaction, and health.

    Mariska Haazen, a geriatric physical therapist at the Archipel Care Center [Archipel zorggroep] also conducted research on Bike Labyrinth. Her study showed that seniors in nursing homes or assisted living facilities between the ages of 75 and 82 cycled for nearly six minutes longer on exercise machines connected to Bike Labyrinth. The group also ranked the experience in the “Fun” category as between 7 and 10, while biking without Bike Labyrinth was ranked between 0 and 8 (on a scale of 0 to 10).

    The conclusion? Social contact and exercise are very important in your later years. Aging implies physical change, which has an effect on many aspects of life. However, we hope the transition will be beautiful and that Bike Labyrinth can be a meaningful part of it in the lives of every senior who struggles with getting older, exercising, and socializing.

    So, if we grab our checklist for how to live a happier life:
  • Social contact? Check ✔
  • Exercise? Check ✔
  • Health? Check ✔

Growing older can be complicated, but it can also be a lot of fun – especially when you do it together!