September is Healthy Aging Month—a great time to make lifestyle changes that raise our chances of remaining independent and well for as long as possible.
By now, you probably know that certain lifestyle choices, such as diet and exercise, can lengthen our lives. But gerontologists remind us that the quality of those extra years is equally, if not more, important. It benefits seniors, their families, and our society as a whole to reduce the average period of disability at the end of life.
The U.S. Census Bureau defines disability as “an individual’s physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of that individual.” A recent report from the Bureau found that nearly 40 percent of all people age 65 and older have at least one disability, and this percentage rises with age. Difficulty walking and climbing is by far the most common disability, followed by hearing loss, vision loss and cognitive impairment.
A recent study from the American Geriatrics Society looked at 25 years’ worth of data on 5,248 older adults, and discovered that men experience, on average, close to three years of disability at the end of life, while women live 4.5 years with limited abilities. The study also found that certain factors reduced the number of years that a participant lived with disability near the end of life.
Four lifestyle choices in particular were associated with fewer years of disability:
- Greater distance walked—Participants who walked more had both longer and healthier years—with a 0.5 percent improvement per every 25 blocks walked per week.
- Healthier diet—Those participants who ate healthful food remained independent longer.
- A healthy body weight—Participants who were obese spent more of their later years living with disability.
- Avoiding smoking—Participants who smoked lived shorter lives, with substantially greater disability at the end.
Concluded the study author, University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health professor Dr. Anne Newman, “We discovered that by improving lifestyle, we can postpone death, but even more so, we can postpone disability—in fact, it turns out that we’re compressing that disabled end-of-life period to a shorter timeframe. This clearly demonstrates the value of investing in a healthy lifestyle.”
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society