We all need more mindfulness in our lives.
It’s a quality that can help reduce stress, ease anxiety, and promote overall wellness. And mindfulness is something that everyone can benefit from regardless of age.
While mindfulness is beneficial for people of all ages, it can be especially helpful for older adults.
As you age, you often face new challenges and transitions that can be difficult to adjust to.
That’s where mindfulness exercises and activities come in handy.
They help you cope with changes in a healthy and positive way. And they give you a chance to slow down, focus on the present moment, and just be.
(Which is the opposite of what society conditions you to do for many decades.)
It’s worth incorporating a regular mindfulness practice in your daily llife.
To help you get started, here are ten mindfulness exercises and activities that are perfect for older adults.
5 Mindfulness Exercises for Older Adults
#1 Mindfulness Meditation
Starting with the most popular mindfulness exercise, mindfulness meditation involves focusing your attention on your breath and letting go of any other thoughts that come into your mind.
You can do this seated or lying down, whichever is more comfortable for you. And there’s no need to worry if your mind wanders at first. Just gently bring your attention back to your breath whenever you notice that your thoughts have drifted.
With regular practice, mindfulness meditation can help you learn to focus and be more present in the moment, among other things.
If you’re just starting out, there are plenty of mindfulness meditation resources available online, including apps like Headspace, Calm or Balance. And some are even covered by insurance, so it’s worth checking these apps out.
There are also plenty of free guided mindfulness meditation videos on YouTube, like this 5-minute meditation.
#2 Body Scan Meditation
The body scan meditation involves focusing your attention on each part of your body in turn and noticing any sensations you’re feeling.
You can do this lying down or seated, whichever is more comfortable for you. Closing your eyes also helps you drop out of your head and into yor body. Start by focusing your attention on your breath and then slowly move your awareness down your body from your head to your toes.
Notice any sensations that you’re feeling in each part of your body and simply allow them to be without judgment. If you find your mind wandering, just bring your attention back to the sensations in your body.
This mindfulness exercise can help you become more aware of how your body feels and improve your ability to relax. In fact, a 2019 study has found that a daily mindful body scan can help reduce both biological and psychological stress.
The study involved two groups of participants:
- the first group listened to a 20-minute audio recording of a guided body scan
- the second group listened to an audiobook for the same amount of time
The researchers measured the participants’ levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) before and after the intervention. Results showed that the body scan group had a significantly lower level of cortisol than the audiobook group.
#3 Five Senses Exercise
This mindfulness exercise is a great way to ground yourself in the present moment and focus your attention on the world around you.
Start by closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths. Then, begin to notice what you’re experiencing through each of your five senses. Notice:
- Five things you can see — my dog, the trees, the clouds, the houses across the street
- Four things you can feel — my sweater, the couch cushions, the coffee mug, the dog’s fur
- Three things you can hear — my breathing, the refrigerator buzzing, birds chirping
- Two things you can smell — coffee, my new shampoo
- One thing you can taste — mint gum
You can do this mindfulness exercise anywhere, anytime. And it’s a great way to bring your attention back to the present moment when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed.
Sidenote: this also works wonders for your memory. By bringing awareness to every sense in that present moment, you’re awakening different parts of your brain to better remember that moment.
#4 Gratitude Exercise
Practicing gratitude is another great exercise that can promote overall wellness and mindfulness. And it’s something that we can all benefit from, regardless of age. Use it to cultivate mindfulness and focus on the positive aspects of your life.
To do this mindfulness exercise, simply take a few minutes to think about or write down things that you’re grateful for. It can be anything from your health to your family and friends to your favorite possessions.
Focusing on what you’re grateful for can help you appreciate the good in your life and make it easier to let go of negative thoughts and emotions. It can be easy to get bogged down in the negative aspects of life – especially when things are tough.
This was the case for the participants of a 2019 study who were experiencing a suicidal crisis. The study lasted for seven days, during which the participants either used a gratitude diary (intervention) or a food diary (control).
At the end of the week, they found that patients who were enrolled in the gratitude journaling group improved more than those writing a food journal. For instance, take a look at how their optimism increased over the course of a week:
While this study was conducted with patients experiencing a serious mental health crisis, the results are absolutely relevant to less severe cases as well. In today’s fast-paced world, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in negative thoughts.
When you focus on being grateful for the good positive things in life, that thought pattern leads to more positive thought patterns, and thus, more positive occurrences show up in your reality.
Taking some time each day to reflect on the things you’re thankful for totally shifts your perspective and improves your well-being. Get started with this gratitude journal and make it a part of your morning routine.
#5 Self-Compassion Exercise
The most important relationship you have is the one you have with yourself. And the self-compassion mindfulness exercise is a great way to show yourself some love.
Here’s how it works. First, find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Then, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Once you’re feeling relaxed, focus your attention on your breath and simply observe the sensations of breathing.
Start repeating mantras such as:
- “I am doing my best.”
- “I am worthy of love and compassion.”
- “I am human and I make mistakes.”
- “I am worthy of forgiveness.”
And while this might sound very woo-woo, it’s based in research. A recent study found that self-compassion may be a key ingredient in maintaining heart health, especially for middle-aged women.
The study results showed that those who reported higher levels of self-compassion were significantly less likely to develop cardiovascular disease, regardless of their blood pressure, insulin resistance and cholesterol levels.
So take a leap of faith and repeat these mantras as often as you need to until you feel a sense of self-compassion, calm, and self-love. For a guided meditation, try this 10-minute self-soothing meditation (published by Calm and recommended by an all-star Rewire My Retirement student).
5 Mindfulness Activities for Older Adults
While mindfulness exercises are a great way to learn to focus and be more present, mindfulness activities are also a fun way to incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life.
#1 Tai Chi & Yoga
Tai chi and yoga are two mindfulness activities that are perfect for older adults. Tai chi is a gentle form of martial arts that helps improve balance and coordination, while yoga helps increase flexibility and strength.
Both tai chi and yoga can be done in a group setting or at home, making them accessible for everyone. And there are many different levels of tai chi and yoga (such as chair yoga), so you can start at a beginner level and work your way up.
#2 Making Art
As Albert Einstein said “Art is the expression of the profoundest thoughts in the simplest way.”
This quote rings especially true when we think about mindfulness and making art.
Whether it’s painting, drawing, sculpting, or any other type of creative expression – it can help you focus your attention on the present moment and tap into your creativity. There are no rules or expectations when it comes to making art, so just let go and have fun.
And this is just one of the numerous reasons why you need more creativity in your life.
Gardening is one of the best mindfulness activities for older adults. It gets you outside in nature, which has been shown to have numerous health benefits. Even simply looking at plants reduces stress, anger, and sadness.
Here’s how a single week of having a plant on their desk decreased the heart rate of Japanese workers:
On top of that, gardening is a tactile activity that involves using your hands to plant seeds, pull weeds, and more. Which helps ground you in the present moment and focus your attention on the task at hand.
Not to mention, gardening is a great way to get some exercise and fresh air. And the end result – a beautiful garden – is an excellent reminder of your hard work.
#4 Cooking & Eating
Cooking is another everyday activity that can be done mindfully.
Just focus on what you can see, smell, and taste while you’re cooking. The smell of fresh herbs, the sound of chopping vegetables, the feel of dough between your fingers – all of these sensations can help ground you in the present moment.
Continue your mindfulness practice by eating mindfully. Take your time to savor each bite and really pay attention to the flavors, textures, and aromas of your food and what you’re physically putting into your body.
It’ll be hard not to think about how good your meal tastes and what nutrients are inside when you’re eating mindfully. And research shows that with mindful eating, you’ll also end up eating less, feeling more satisfied, and making healthier food choices.
#5 Walking & Being in Nature
Last but not least, mindfulness doesn’t have to be something you do indoors. Walking and being in nature are two great ways to practice mindfulness while getting some exercise.
Whenever you’re outside, take a moment to really notice your surroundings. Listen to the birds singing, feel the sun on your skin, and breathe in the fresh air.
Walking is also an excellent opportunity to be aware of your thoughts and feelings. Notice any negative thoughts or emotions that come up, allow them to pass through, and then let them go.
It’s worth adding this simple daily exercise as there’s the added benefit of extra focus after a simple 20-minute walk.
Use that extra focus to stay in the present moment and enjoy how good it feels to be outside.
Make Mindfulness a Habit
Mindfulness doesn’t have to be complicated – these simple mindfulness exercises and activities can help you get started.
And the more you practice mindfulness, the easier it will become. Before you know it, mindfulness will be a part of your everyday life, and there’s nothing greater than enjoying the benefits of consistent mindfulness.
To recap the ten mindfulness exercises and activities for older adults:
- #1 Mindfulness meditation — focus your attention on the present moment and let go of negative thoughts and emotions
- #2 Body scan meditation — focus your attention on different parts of your body to get in touch with how you’re feeling physically
- #4 Gratitude exercise — write down things you’re grateful for to shift your mind to a higher frequency and positivity
- #5 Self-compassion exercise — give yourself the love and compassion you need and deserve
- #6 Tai chi & yoga — practice low-impact mindfulness activities that can help you get in touch with your body
- #7 Creating art — express yourself creatively and focus on the process rather than the final product
- #8 Gardening — get outside in nature and focus on the tactile sensations of planting seeds, pulling weeds, and more
- #9 Cooking & eating — savor the flavors, textures, and aromas of your food as you prepare and eat it
- #10 Walking & being in nature — notice the sights, sounds, and smells around you as you take a walk and spend time in nature
These exercises help to calm the mind and body, and they can be done anywhere, at any time. They’re also free, which is a huge plus.
And, unlike some other forms of exercise, mindfulness activities don’t require any special equipment or clothing. All you need is yourself and a desire for peace and calm.
Give mindfulness a try. Like with nearly everything we recommend, start with a small micro-step of one mindfulness exercise or activity and build up from there.