How to Maintain Your Independence Longer
Dawn Williams | Jun 29, 2011, 5:11 p.m.
We’re living longer than at any point in history. Staying independent as long as possible is everyone’s priority. Medical advances now can cure - or at the very least, treat - most of the conditions that shortened the lifespan in previous generations. Research has proven that more often than not, the way we live and the choices we make can override genetic tendencies and inherited risk of certain diseases. All this knowledge, properly applied, is an elixir to keep us healthy and self-reliant well into advanced age.
And that’s the key - properly applying the knowledge we’ve gained, funneling it down in a way that will influence lifestyle choices and guide us toward decisions for improved health and increased longevity. Where does one begin?
As managing editor of Chicagoland Senior News for the last five years and a bona fide member of the “50 and better” crowd, I can tell you that if you’re confused by the volume and disparity of wellness information, you are not alone. The ease of disseminating information via websites, blogs and vlogs in addition to traditional channels like newspapers, books and television have some of us on information overload. Findings from new studies seem to contradict those from previous research. Scientific debate is a wonderful thing, but from the consumer side, sorting out hypothesis from fact can be daunting.
My approach to sorting solid, applicable information from the possibly brilliant, but as yet unproven theories, is to start with the basics. Some things, we know. For example, we know the human body is a magnificent, sophisticated machine, one with the capacity to renew and sustain itself decades longer than previously thought. We know what enhances the body’s ability to stay strong and we know what factors limit this ability. Equally important, we know that our physical health is not isolated, but rather, intricately tied to our thoughts, beliefs, emotions and behaviors. As Aristotle said, “The whole is more than the sum of its parts.”
From this perspective, we can compile what we know into a foundation on which to build an approach to staying strong, healthy, and independent into the farthest reaches of the lifespan.
Principles that apply to maintaining physical health in our earlier years remain in effect in later life, too. First and foremost, unless your doctor has specified limits to certain activities due to a health condition, there is no reason for a person of 50, 60, 70 or beyond to avoid exercise.
Specifically, we know we should engage in aerobic activity - anything that increases your heart rate and makes you sweat counts - at least 30 minutes, five times per week. But the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans makes clear that this recommendation is the minimum required to maintain adequate health. Ideally, find a way to work your body an hour each day. Aerobic activity keeps the cardiovascular system strong, helps your brain stay sharp, improves your mood and increases your immune function, among other benefits. It also helps you maintain your weight, a particular challenge as our metabolism slows down with each passing year.