Wellness – it is in the mind too

This is my 3rd article for the Dignity Foundation’s magazine for Senior Citizens. I didn’t publish the second one containing some basic methods to research health issues, which may be too elementary for our readers.


This time i want to cover the wellness aspects of our mind.   But before that I want to thank Ms. Sunita for following the instructions from my previous article and leaving me a comment on my blog.

The physical health of Senior Citizens gets a lot of attention, which is quite good. But what i find worrisome is the scant disregard for mental fitness which in my opinion is much more important.

For the purpose of this topic, i put the Senior Citizens that i come across into 2 buckets – the happy kind, who are quite positive, enthusiastic and energetic,  and the unhappy kind who are anything but.

Both kinds have the usual health issues – diabetes, hypertension, arthritis etc.  Interestingly, i found that the happy kind took the routine health issues in their stride, whereas the unhealthy kind, were unable to handle them without stressing out.

A revelation came to me when I dug deeper into this stark contrast. The happy kind seemed to focus a lot more on their minds than on their bodies, perhaps unknowingly. While they did do their regular exercise and regular tests like most senior citizens, it is what they do with their minds that is telling.  I boiled them down to 5 important activity clusters:

1. They take an active interest in things – news, cinema, politics, environment, neighborhood issues like any responsible citizen.

2. They take the opportunity to learn new languages, solve puzzles like Sudoku, join a toastmasters club, learn music, blogging – or anything that exercises their minds.

3. They do not brood over their life’s problems and regrets except as a way to draw lessons that they can pass onto others.

4. They renew their interest in cooking, taking care of grandchildren or taking care of a pet.

5. They do not focus too much on their appearance except to make sure they look and feel healthy.

On the other hand, the unhappy kind, didn’t do most of the above. And because their minds are not in top shape, even a trivial health issue seems to immobilize them. It is difficult for them to do even their day to day chores, which over time leads to illnesses like depression.

Which kind are you?

If you want to make a start towards a healthy mind, try Sudoku – it is an invigorating math puzzle that appears in almost all daily newspapers and it does not require anything other than basic arithmetic skills.


  1. Quote

    The question “Which kind are you?” kind of threw me off!! Errrr. does that mean only the elderly can answer this question and comment on this post?? 😉
    ah well!! elderly is but a relative term. for a baby born yesterday i would be elderly so i think i ll go ahead and leave a comment!! 🙂
    jokes apart i completely agree with you and the two classifications u have made.
    i look at my grandmother who at the age of 69 is a much happier person than i am. Its funny you should mention sudoku coz she solves the Hindu and Times Sudoku everyday. She keeps herself occupied and busy and if she has nothing to do she reads or cleans the shelves at home (not a very good thing for me!! :P), does speed math (no kidding!!), teaches my cousins math or sanskrit, writes sri rama jayam and reads a lot. i remember when i was preparing for my aptitude exams she would do 4 digit multiplications in her head while i would struggle with them on paper.
    I mean she is much more mentally agile than i can ever hope to be.
    Another relative of mine (all due respect to him) on the other hand spends so much of time brooding about trivial things and worrying about his money that he is perenially ill and visiting apollo hospital for things like heart burn, acidity and things like that. Personally i think most of his diseases are a figment of his imagination and he would be much happier if he just kept himself busy and occupied. at the risk of sounding cliched let me say that it is very true that an idle mind is a devil’s workshop. 🙂
    Nice post Sukumar!! 🙂

  2. Quote

    Good One !!

    This is applicable to every age group. But it the Elders who get affected health wise immediately and becomes visible.

    Happy ones are the folks who indulge in some activity and keep themselves busy. Have seen this trend in the job sector, people start talking about work satisfaction and complaining when they have a lot of spare time or have become an expert in their job, taking little time to solve their usual tasks.

    Housewives who have been earlier working also create family situations, if they are not kept busy.

    Kids and teenagers on the other hand create the opportunity themselves to keep them busy and they dont have much worries also.

    One activity which you have missed is going to places of worship which is very common among elders.

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    For the unhappy Kind,

    Men in the indian society do not contribute towards daily chores at home which leaves a big vacuum after retirement. Women have an alternate to look back to at home.

    Many people feel they are unwanted or useless when they do not get much time with other busy family members or lose of status as primary bread winner.

    Inherent belief that their life is complete after the last son/daughter marriage.

    List goes on ……

  4. Quote

    Completely agree with you and I guess the same can be extended to everyone and not only senior folks.. Your outlook (optimistic/pessimistic etc) on life surely will make an impact on how you experience it.

  5. Quote

    Good post Sukumar,

    I think people from all age group need this introspection.I dont think I can add any more this discussio as Revathi and Rajesh have effectivly summed up what I had in mind:)

  6. Quote

    Sukumar – Nice post. I think its also important to do new things & learn new skills. Unless the brain is kept agile – no matter what the age – it will become the haunting ground of neuro-degenerative diseases. Breaking from the routine generates new connections in the brain & keeps it humming along for a longer time.

  7. Quote

    Thanks. Your grandma seems like a wonderful person. I am glad you agreed with my observations.

  8. Quote

    Thanks Rajesh. That is insightful about men and women. I missed religion completely. Thanks for pointing out. This is why blogging is so powerful. Okay, yeah, i need to get off my blogging high horse 🙂

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    Jass and Karthik,
    Thanks. Glad you liked the post.

  10. Quote

    Thanks Priya. You are absolutely right, learning new things will definitely keep the brain in tip-top shape and hopefully prevent neuro-degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

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    Nice post sir ! I too agree with Rajesh that women naturally have some activity to do at home which might well continue into their old age. The larger issue is with men who stop working and suddenly find a vaccum before them. The fact that they were not previously involved much into daily household activities doesn’t help either.

    I remember one uncle in my neighbourhood during my childhood days in Chennai who retired as Post Master. He too had all the usual set of family issues that are natural in an Indian middle class family. The best thing was that no body apart from very close friends ever came to know that he retired until a good 3-4 months after. He was so much involved in community actitivties that he never found time to sit at home. I remember him helping out almost everyone in the community, be it finding the plumber, aranging terrace b’day parties for kids, helping out others with groceries, electricty bill payments…He was so incredible that everyone started soon calling him ‘Great-Uncle’. He soon was elected secretary of the community association and soon the buzzword for any problem around became ‘let’s ask Great-uncle’ !

    To keep himself lively, he engaged with almost all children in the neighbourhood apart from his own grand daughter. To put things in perspective, I used to get handwritten letters from him until about a month before his death which was a good 4-5 years after I left Chennai. I have preserved all his letters and they are a great source of inspiration to date… talking about life’s priorities to importance of learning other cultures . I bet most of we kiddos in the neighbourhood got ’em.

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    Besides a lot of what is already mentioned, I would add (or substitute) spirituality to religion. Some folks find it in prayer, meditation, devotion to a religion, others like what Ranjit has mentioned find it in service to community.

    And to add to Ranjit’s comments, I think if you surround yourself with happy/uplifting people, happiness and joy becomes what you are. Engaging with children is a good way. It can start simple by taking an active (but not intruding) role in grand children’s activities. Joining laughter clubs could prove therapeutic as well.

    One of the most debilitating thing a retiree feels is the mental usurpation of the tag “bread winner”. If this can be replaced with something productive like the things that have been mentioned in this thread, that will help ease the transition.

    Good post!!

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    Wonderful article Sukumar. We do see people of both categories. Do you think the health care stress in US is one of the reasons for even 70 year olds to keep working in Walmart etc there by keeping them active. (I dont know how painful it might be).

    I remember the character Brooks in Shawshank Redemption. In most cases, the employees who retire are like that getting great attention and meaning of their 8 hour work day. Once they retire the lack of attention is what makes people probably feel empty. It is a great idea to have proper counseling by employers to prepare everyone for retirement.

    I know some people who never touched a computer until their 70 years, now knows more Win XP than me, know all cool websites etc. I also know 40 year olds working in Banks/ State Govt who think that it is a strange machine. It’s the mind set that matters. But once anybody hools up to the internet, I doubt they feel bored especially today with social media, wikipedia etc.

    Sudoku, spiritual work, community work, volunteering are some great ideas.

  14. Quote

    Thanks Ranjit. Having that type of energetic activity post-retirement is not that common in India. Great Uncle indeed. Thanks for sharing.

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    Thanks Ganesh. You are right. spirituality and surrounding yourself with positive people is definitely important. Laughter clubs is a great suggestion. Humour Club is a popular organization in chennai.

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    Thanks Vamsi. That is a good question and a good example from one of my favorite movies Shawshank Redemption. I think senior citizens may work either due to necessity or due to the need to keep oneself occupied in some way.

    As everyone pointed out the key thing is to keep the mind active and engaged.

    You are right Sudoku, Volunteering, Spiritual and Community work are great ideas.

    This post is another testimony to the widsom of this blog’s community.

  17. Quote

    Well said Sukumar, “Idle mind is devil’s workshop” always engage mind with something which would keep our mind and thoughts fresh and good shape. I was amazed with my dad’s eagerness to know current affairs, after the 3rd day of surgery, he was watching news from Sun TV at 1.00PM and Jaya TV at 2.00PM and Makkal TV at 3.00PM, he stopped only after watching the last TV news at 10.00PM. I thought he was obsessed with current affairs but now i’m thinking he was at-least engaging with something is good for him and his wellness.

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    The real happiness for any one comes from surrounding people than materialistic terms.. I feel solving sudoku or other puzzles may relieve us only for short duration..

    As far as i have observed in my surroundings, the grand children is the major and important source of attachment and happiness for the elders.. it will occupy them for atleast another 10 years or more..

    Those enlightened people choose spirituality for solace and peace..

    I have seen elders both in towns and villages.. in towns, they have no public spaces, and hence have to stay within the same house all the time.. hence they become stressed or depressed often..

    But in villages, there is ample public spaces, mostly temples (and also mandapams, trees) where all elders come together, chat and spend time refreshing their past days.. also, in villages, there is no anonymity.. ie people know each other in that village.. this also gives a kind of attachment to the elders, as they feel secured..

  19. Quote

    Thanks Subba. That is amazing that your father started watching news after a major surgery. Yes understanding what is going on in the world is a key part of engaging with the world. Smart peopl “get” that.

  20. Quote

    Thanks Senthil. Yes, material possessions probably will not give you happiness in the long term.

    Yes, villages probably offer more scope of interaction with other people. In cities, as apartment complexes proliferate, seniors get ample company from other seniors in the complex.

    I don’t understand why you think puzzle give only short term relief. On the contrary, by engaging your brain and stimulating it, puzzles offer a lot of long term benefits. You may want to read up some more on neuroscience.

    Going by your argument, one can argue that movies or books or music offer only temporary relief? Nothing would be farther from the truth.

  21. Quote


    I meant that we cannot solve sudoku cotninoursly for a long time.. i may be wrong.. it depends on the person’s interest and involvement..

  22. Quote

    Senthil – I think what Sukumar means is, the good effects of doing a puzzle linger long after you finish the puzzle. Its similar to the good effects of listening to a melodious, new song or having a stimulating conversation with someone.

  23. Quote
    ganesh srinivasan (subscribed) said February 15, 2009, 8:45 am:

    Hi sukh:
    I stumbled upon your entry in Linkedin and followed up to this blog. This post is especially a nice one and very encouraging. I have had the experince of managing my father, especially when he was bed ridden for 12 years. His positive attitude towards life made it easier for all of us.

  24. Quote

    Thanks Ganesh for stopping by and your kind words. Yes, a positive attitude is especially important.

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