Wellness & Education

A 4-H Lesson for Healthy Aging

September is Healthy Aging Month. For those looking for healthy aging tips, there is no better inspiration than the 4-H youth organization that so many Rush County seniors remember. The 4-H’s are “head”, “heart”, “hands” and “health”.  


The 4-H “head” represents clear thinking, which includes making good decisions, being organized, solving problems, gaining knowledge and planning for the future. Some seniors can still do all of these things without any problem. Others may need a little help. A pencil and a piece of paper can a powerful tool for clear thinking. This is all it takes to create lists, including “to do” lists, budget lists, lists of contacts, family birthday lists, menu and recipe lists, etc. If details tend to fade from your mind, try writing them down, and keep them all together in a notebook of lists.  

Making good decisions relies on wisdom, which seniors often have in abundance. Having trouble finding your keys, or remembering why you walked into a particular room, is much less important than having good judgement based on wisdom and experience.  


The 4-H “heart” represents care for self and others, positive moral values, healthy social life and the ability to work with other people. Keeping a strong “heart” may not be much of an issue for many seniors, particularly those who have spent a lifetime of building strong relationships. In a small community like Rush County, where many seniors have known the same people for decades, keeping their “heart” alive and well may just come naturally. However, even seniors with a tight network of friends and family may have difficulties to overcome.  

Seeing loved ones pass away can be one of the greatest challenges of senior living. 

 A lack of energy can make seniors leery of getting out and about to spend time with other people. Staying at home, alone, can feel easier in the short term, even if it’s isolating in the long run.  

Financial limitations may also keep seniors from participating in activities that cost money, such as traveling to see family, sharing entertainment, or eating out. On the other hand, spending time with others can be much easier if one is retired and has more time in general. If money or energy is an issue, there are other ways of having an active social life. Friends can share home-cooked meals, take walks together, or even watch favorite TV programs together.  


The 4-H “hands” represent volunteering, work, useful skills, community service and learning about science and technology. Anyone who has had their grandchild program their DVD player or explain how to use their smartphone can relate to the importance and the frustrations of working with technology.  

Fortunately, many seniors have other skills that help compensate for what they may lack in the technical arena. Teaching children or grandchildren to change the oil, cook a meal or plant a garden, can help seniors triumph in the “hands” department. It’s even better if younger family members are taught to use their new skills to help others. This creates a legacy that will live on in the next generation.   


The 4-H “health” stands for bodily health, healthy lifestyles, having a strong character and managing stress. For some, “health” can be the most challenging “H” for seniors. Staying physically active, limiting alcohol, avoiding tobacco, eating right, getting enough sleep and avoiding stress are all commonsense health measures for people of any age. They are even more important for seniors, who suffer from the natural decline of aging.  

As people age, the benefit of accumulated good choices, or the weight of accumulated bad choices, can become increasingly evident. Many difficult health dilemmas result from a lifetime of poor health habits. However, it’s rarely too late for good habits to make a difference. The worse things are, the more difference one new good habit may make.  


If you ask anyone to talk about memories of 4-H, they are reminded of the projects they did, the animals shown at the fair, and the ribbons they won. All of these projects, animals, and ribbons, started with a long list of projects to choose from. No one person could do all the projects (although some tried). Healthy aging is a lot like the 4-H project book. No one can do it all. The best thing to do is to pick a healthy aging habit, or two, and get started.