The Pursuit of Independence

The Pursuit of Independence

Susan B. Anthony once said, "Independence is happiness". What does this mean? What IS independence? And how can we maintain it as we grow older? Statistics show that by the year 2030, over 20% of the population will be made up by those individuals 65 years of age and older. Our goal as individuals is to remain as independent as we can, for as long as we can. Following are some tips and suggestions to help you get the most out of your senior years and not just survive, but thrive!

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines independence as "freedom from outside control or support". Another definition refers to independence as "freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, from others". Studies have shown that it is important for seniors to maintain their independence to the best of their ability because it will create a better quality of life for them. In addition, seniors who remain physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally engaged retain better cognitive function, stay healthier, and are able to live independently longer. Success, happiness, and other life achievements are often the result of doing things on our own. This desire for independence does not diminish with age. If anything, it becomes even more important the older we get!

In August of 2008, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) indicated that an inactive or sedentary lifestyle can cause older people to lose ground in 4 significant areas that affect health and independence: strength, balance, flexibility, and endurance. According to the NIA, staying physically active and exercising regularly can help prevent and delay many diseases and disabilities. Participation in regular exercise can eventually result in a safer and better quality of life. Let's look at the four areas that affect health and independence in greater detail.

Strength is central to daily function, particularly in the elderly. Studies show that muscle strength declines by 15 percent per decade after the age of 50, and 30 percent per decade after the age of 70. However, resistance training can result in muscle gains which in turn can lead to muscle building, increased metabolism, and maintaining stable weight and blood sugar.

Balance is crucial for us to be able to effectively go about our daily routine. Balance exercises can help strengthen leg muscles which in turn can help prevent falls. This means a lower risk of fractured or broken hips or other bones.

Stretching exercises are extremely beneficial for increasing flexibility and freedom of movement. Stretching exercises alone will not improve endurance or strength, but they will help you maintain your range of motion and lengthen and tone your muscles.

Endurance exercises such as walking, swimming, and jogging will increase your heart rate and breathing for an extended period of time. It is important to build up endurance gradually, increasing distance and /or intensity as tolerated. It is always important with any type of exercise to stretch and warm up slowly before, as well as after, you engage in the activity of your choice.

The importance of being independent is twofold for seniors according to an article written for Living Magazine. Independence sometimes is the only thing some seniors feel they can control as other aspects of their life begin to change with age. Maintaining independence for seniors can promote a sense of achievement that can lead to a greater sense of self-worth and well-being. What are some other steps we can take to maintain our independence as we age?

-Downsize. In an article for Forbes magazine, Sarah Szanton says, "we see housing as a part of our healthcare. What one can do is a function of where one lives". Sometimes, it is smarter to give up our 4 bedroom two-story home on 5 acres in favor of a smaller one-story home with less upkeep.

-Utilize your friends and neighbors! You can remain independent even if you have decided to hang up your car keys! Allow your friends, family, neighbors, or even a private caregiver to assist you with errands such as going to the grocery store and pharmacy, or just getting out of the house for some fresh air.

-In-Home Service Providers. An injury or illness can cause sudden, if temporary disability. InĀ­ Home care offers an approach that allows you to retain your independence rather than having to go to a rehab or assisted living facility.

-Let technology be your friend! According to Healthline, technology can extend your senior independence by ensuring your safety while you live independently. Personal medical alert systems allow seniors to summon help quickly in the event of a fall or a need for medical attention. Some systems will even remind you to take your routine medications! One less thing for you to have to keep track of!

In summary, maintaining your independence is easier now than ever before! In the famous words of Abraham Lincoln, "In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the Life in your years." Therefore, with a little planning and determination, it stands to reason that you really CAN have your cake and eat it too!