I hope you had a great 4th of July! I sure did. The weather here was perfect, I spent time with family, and enjoyed an extended weekend.
July 4th marks our country's birthday and the declaration of independence from Great Britain. We celebrate the day with fireworks, family gatherings, parades and other events that emphasize and honor our political freedom.
Freedom and independence are strongly valued by Americans. These values are protected, guarded, and often debated as we address issues such as freedom of speech and gender equality.
The freedom and independence we celebrate as a national holiday are also two important elements we value as we get older. The freedom to chose how one ages and the ability to remain independent become of greater significance as we age.
Maintaining your independence throughout the aging process can be difficult when faced with chronic disease, chronic pain, and decreased strength and endurance. Our bodies just cannot do the things they were able to do in our 20s. But that doesn't mean we have to give up living a healthy, fulfilling, and productive life. There are a few things you can do to improve your ability to maintain your independence.
Exercise is necessary to maintain your strength and endurance. Of course, you may not be a powerlifter or marathon-runner, but strength and endurance are needed for every day activities. Pushing a vacuum, carrying groceries, walking from the parking lot to the store, and standing in line all require muscular strength and endurance. Unfortunately, recent reports have indicated that less than 25% of adult Americans are meeting the basic requirements for exercise.
These guidelines are the minimum recommended for overall general health and apply to all adults. Please check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program. If you need help getting started, feel free to contact me at any time.
Nutrition plays a critical role in health and disease prevention. For a variety of reasons, many older adults begin to rely on packaged, processed foods for their meals. Most of these items are high in fat, sodium, and sugar and offer little in nutritional value. Nutritional deficiencies, lack of fiber, and the consumption of highly processed foods increase the risk for chronic inflammation, chronic fatigue, obesity, and many other "lifestyle" diseases such as Type II diabetes and heart disease.
Including a variety of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains into your meal plan can reduce your risk of disease, improve your immune system, help you control your weight, and give you the energy to enjoy life. These foods add vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, protein, and essential fats that your body needs to function properly.
Most people have heard about the importance of a nutritious diet and proper exercise program for good health, but did you know that an active social life also contributes to healthy aging? A great deal of research has indicated that those who remain socially active are more likely to remain independent. Staying socially active has been shown to improve mood and quality of life. Health benefits, such as reduced blood pressure and improved cognitive function, are evident among those who maintain regular social interaction.
Social activities do not have to be large productions to be effective and beneficial. Meeting a friend for lunch, participating in a book club, and volunteering are simple ways to interact with others will little planning and effort needed. Sure, a big party or celebration is always fun, but those small get togethers often are even more rewarding and enjoyable. No plans for the month? Call a friend and plan a lunch date, check the local library or park district and try a new class, or find a cause that is important to you and sign up to volunteer.
Challenging your brain is as important as challenging your body. Simple things such as brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, driving a different route to the store, or following a new recipe are effective ways to keep your brain stimulated. Of course, puzzles, games, learning a new language, or learning to play a musical instrument challenge your brain by requiring you to think, problem-solve, strategize, and remember. All of these things are important in every day life. Keep your mind sharp by incorporating various activities that challenge your brain throughout the day.
Your brain health and physical health might be dependent upon and impacted by medication. Though there have been some terrific advances in our pharmaceutical industry, improper management of your medication can have detrimental effects on your health. Forgetting to take your medication, drug interactions, drug side effects, and improper dosing can have serious health consequences.
Stay knowledgeable about your medication and know why you are taking it. Understand the side effects and possible interactions. Question your doctor if he/she prescribes more medication and periodically review what you are taking. Know what to do if you miss a dose. Always ask about other options - we have heard plenty about the opioid crisis and overdoses of prescription medication. An issue such as chronic pain often has a multitude of causes and medication may be just one way to manage the pain. Ask your doctor about pain clinics, alternative therapies, or other non-drug therapies that may be available. These alternatives could reduce the amount of medication needed or even offer a solution to pain management without drugs.
Though some may require medications to treat medical conditions, remember that medications often have side effects such as dizziness, fatigue, and pain (yes, some create the pain!). These side effects can negatively impact your daily life and put you at an increased risk for a fall. Lifestyle interventions such as exercise and proper nutrition may reduce your risk and/or manage your illness without the need for medications. Talk to your doctor and take healthier steps toward treating/managing your disease.
The fear of falling greatly increases as we age, causing many older adults to avoid visiting new places, participating in social outings, or traveling. Yet, most falls occur at home. Keeping your home safe, not only from falls but from other accidents, is an obvious way to avoid injury, trips to the emergency room, and a possible hospital visit. Unfortunately, many people wait until the accident before fixing the problem.
Area rugs might look great in your home, but they also present a tripping hazard. Clutter, newspapers on the floor, and poor lighting can also contribute to a fall. Safety bars offer added support in the bathtub and shower - install them even if you don't feel you need them. Better safe than sorry. Hopefully you will never need them, but if you slip in the shower you will be glad they are there.
Don't forget to take a thorough scan of your yard. Cracked sidewalks, sticks and debris in the yard, and poor lighting at night can increase your chances of tripping and falling outside. Also, consider the safety of your visitors. Certainly you would want to keep your home safe for anyone who visits.
Not everyone is a jack-of-all-trades, and this is where asking for help comes in. We don't all know how to do everything and few of us are able to do everything, so don't be afraid to ask. You may know a neighbor who can help with your yard or a friend who has some electrical experience to help you with outdoor lighting. Too often we think asking for help is a sign of weakness but fail to consider how much help we have really received throughout our lives. Maybe you have asked a neighbor to watch the dog while you were away for the day, asked a friend for a ride while your car was in the shop, or had a co-worker fill in for you when you took off for the day. Do what you can but be sure to ask if you need some help. It is not a sign of weakness, but a smart way to stay safe.
Pushing yourself too much is a sure way to set yourself up for physical and mental stress. Learn to take breaks when needed. If your body is tired, give it some rest. If your brain has been working all day solving a problem, learning something new, or making decisions, it also needs a break. Meditation, spending time outdoors, or listening to music are simple ways to take a quick mental break. Short rest breaks taken when needed will reenergize your body and brain, improve your mood, and help prevent accidents. A short nap might be just what you need to tackle the rest of the day with enthusiasm!
Maintaining your independence is of major concern for older adults. Taking care of your health, modifying your living space, and adjusting your schedule to best suit your energy levels can reduce your risk of injury and accidents and give you the strength and stamina to sustain a high quality of life.