Hey, Older Americans… This May Be Your Month!

The words “good” and “food” look like they should rhyme. But they don’t. That’s fine… after all, not all food is good. 

On the other hand, the phrases “good food” and “good mood” do rhyme. Maybe because eating good food will put you in a good mood.

Now, I know science won’t confirm my rhyming theories. But science does have something to say about the connection between mood and food.

That’s one of the things I want to explore today. I’ll also tie in the fact that May is both Older Americans Month and Mental Health Awareness Month. So, you’re going to get your money’s worth today. 

Aging in Place Is the Goal

President Gerald Ford declared May as Older Americans Month in 1976. It’s a month in which Americans are encouraged to recognize the contributions of older adults.

Older Americans deserve to be acknowledged for their actions. Whether they served their country in the military or mentored a child. Or perhaps volunteered at a soup kitchen or helped their community in some other way.

Leading the nation’s observance of Older Americans Month is the Administration for Community Living. This year’s theme is “Age My Way.” Sounds like something Frank Sinatra might sing, right?

The focus of this month in 2022 is aging in place. In other words, examining ways older adults can stay in their homes and live independently as long as possible.    

Many things play a role in aging in place. What each older American needs and prefers might be unique. But there is also a community component to it.

Stories Are Key to Community 

Among activities older Americans can organize and participate in this month are stories, events and group projects.

Stories build community and connect older Americans. Even when they are not physically together. Older adults can share their stories in a variety of settings. Including workshops organized by towns, schools and libraries. 

School administrators can have students interview older Americans. This could help them learn what life in America was like decades ago better than any textbook might. 

Many older Americans are not as tech-savvy as younger ones. But they can still use social media to share wisdom and life tips. Some can use video chat to participate in a storytelling session.

Events Take Many Forms

Events are another way to celebrate, share resources and connect with other community members.

Game night is a great way to do this. Whether it’s an old standby game such as Monopoly, Clue or Bingo. Or a newer, adult-friendly video game.

A musical event can also bring older Americans together. Some bands – including those with younger members – target older adults with their musical styles. There’s nothing like music to bring out joy and facilitate healing.

A physical exercise class is another way to enjoy fun and camaraderie while getting in shape. Gaining better balance and strength is helpful in avoiding falls that can steal your independence.

Putting together a fundraising event for an adult community center can be especially beneficial. Preparing food and making crafts to sell at the event is another excellent way to socialize. 

Music Is Good for the Soul 

There are many group projects that bring older adults together for a purpose.

One activity is planting a community garden with flowers or produce. Those who can’t tend to gardens due to physical limitations can bring their own home plants to the garden for display.

Art projects are always fun. They make for wonderful visuals in high-traffic areas of town. Maybe it’s a mural or perhaps a mosaic art project. Or a collage of different paintings on one canvas. 

Older Americans gathering together for community betterment projects is an inspiration for all ages. This could range from cleaning up an eyesore in town to collecting funds for a worthy cause.

Can Food Affect Your Mood?

Mental Health Awareness Month was first celebrated in 1949. It was commemorated by a group now known as the Mental Health America organization. This year’s theme is #Tools2Thrive. 

There are many aspects of Mental Health Awareness Month we could explore. But for the sake of time, let’s stick with how food affects our mood. 

Everyone knows the types of foods you eat – and in what quantities – influence physical health. Lesser known is how they affect our mental outlook on life.

Scientists tell us there is a direct connection between diet and emotions. That’s because there is a close relationship between your brain and your gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Healthy Diet = Happy Outlook

Here’s why. Billions of bacteria (good and bad) that influence the production of neurotransmitters live in the GI tract. Neurotransmitters are chemical substances that carry messages from your gut to your brain.

When we eat healthy foods, it promotes the growth of good bacteria. That positively affects neurotransmitter production. But when we eat a bunch of junk food, inflammation hampers that production.

The biggest culprit is sugar. It can produce a temporary good feeling in your brain. But it disappears quickly. Sugar crashes are “terrible for your mood,” according to Rachel Brown. She’s co-founder of the Wellness Project. 

Gabriela Cora is a board-certified psychiatrist. She says sticking with a diet of healthy food sets us up for fewer mood fluctuations. Plus an overall happier outlook. And an improved ability to focus.    

Over the next four weeks, give some thought to how the foods you eat affect your moods. And then adjust accordingly. You’ll be happy you did.

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