4 Habits to Stay Independent Long-term

mmoran
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Posted: Aug 22, 2016 6:00 AM
If there’s one thing we all want, when it comes to aging, it’s to grow old gracefully. No one wants to be stuck in a chair or bed. No one wants to see their faculties fade in the later stages of life. It’s not enough to just grow old. You want to keep your independence and vitality the whole way. Luckily, there are a few things you can do in order to keep your body and mind happy and healthy up until your final moments.

Use it or lose it

If you only take one lesson away from today’s article it’s this: Use it or lose it. If you aren’t active, your muscles will atrophy, and your bones will grow brittle. If you don’t challenge your mind, it too will slow down and wither. And if you don’t maintain an active social life, you’ll retreat into yourself, become more moody and sullen, and eventually become indifferent to your own fate. We don’t want any of that. So do this instead.

Be active!

Ideally, you want to walk around for at least 30 minutes, every day. Do this, and your body will keep on ticking much better than if you are a couch potato. However, sometimes that’s easier said than done. As you age, you may have challenges with your sight or your balance. Sidewalks full of cracks, roads full of potholes, even large curbs can present an obstacle. If you’re in that situation, take heart. There’s still plenty you can do. The first choice will be to find smooth ground, like a nice, grassy field. Watch out for roots, of course, but don’t let a park intimidate you. If you can’t find a good walking trail, you can still get around trying cityscapes with an assist from a walker or a cane. It will provide you with both support, and confidence. If that’s still too difficult, try some chair exercises. Almost everyone can do these, and you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your home. The goal should be to get yourself in good enough shape that you can explore outdoors again, but worry about that later. First, just get active. And finally, if you have access to a pool, there are always aquatic exercise classes. They are extremely easy on joints, and—with an assist from natural buoyancy—you aren’t in any danger of falling. Be safe when you are being active. But always be active.

Always be learning

Your brain is most active when it’s challenged by something new. Doing something familiar doesn’t create any new synapses or pathways. Doing something unfamiliar does. So pick up a new skill, hobby, or interest. This is your chance to revisit a subject you always found fascinating, but never had time to explore. Or to develop a talent you always wished you had. There’s never been a better time to be a learner. Not only do you have the time, but the resources are everywhere, and they’re rich. Many local community colleges have courses open to all. Lots of towns and cities have adult learning centers devoted to teaching new skills. So do many libraries. And, through sites like Udemy and Coursera, there’s a limitless supply of learning available on the internet. Even just searching through YouTube will give you plenty of lessons. How you decide to learn is a matter of personal preference. (But take note, you want to learn actively. Watching the news on TV isn’t the same as taking a class which requires you to interact with your fellow students or actually create something new.) What you decide to learn—that’s completely up to you. The important thing is to continue learning, and stretching your brain. The more you exercise it, the sharper it will remain.

Stay social

Another important way to keep your brain active is to keep your interactions high. The more people you talk to, the healthier you’ll be. Again, this can take any sort of form you like. A book club, or a bridge club. A poker night, or group travel. Eating out with friends, or hosting an evening in. As you age—and you lose contact with more and more friends, through relocation, retirement, or death—it’s easy to withdraw into yourself. Don’t let that happen. Not only is interaction good for the brain—it’s also essential for your spirit, and your overall health. In short, stay connected to the world, stay interested in the world, and stay active in the world. Do that, and you’ll remain independent and happy to the end of your days.

References

Focus On Health Aging, Strategies To Help You Stay Independent, Icahn School of Medicine At Mount Sinai