How To Maintain Independence As You Age

“It comes down to daily behavior and the choices we make,” says Elissa Epel, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), who studies stress and aging.
how to maintain independence as you age

When Evelyn Sheaves turned 75, her children, David and Elizabeth, both in their 50s, asked her if she would consider living in a senior living facility or a retirement community for older adults. Evie, as her friends call her, understood why her kids would ask her this. She remembered what it was like taking care of her own mother as she seasoned into her golden years and the hardships it placed on her and her family at the time. But unlike her mother, who had an array of health problems including diabetes, arthritis, and early onset dementia, Evie was feeling pretty good for her age. With no major health concerns she decided to stay living on her own in the house she’s lived at for 40 years in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia.

“I’m in better shape now than I was 20 or 30 years ago!” she says. The key to getting older, she claims, is about maintaining a routine, having a good community of people around you, and not eating too much of ‘the bad stuff.’ “Though I still love a glass of whiskey and a cigarette now and again,” she says with a laugh.

For older adults like Evie, remaining independent is imperative to feeling healthy and empowered as she ages. Though she understands why many seniors choose to live in retirement communities and senior living facilities, she says that lifestyle just isn’t for her. “I have a good routine going. I get up and walk or run every morning before I have coffee. Then I get in the garden and spend a few hours there. I’ve been doing that for years now. It keeps me young.” 

Evie might be onto something. Extensive research backs up Evie’s claims that staying fit, being part of a community, and eating well are all part of how to maintain independence as you age.

“It comes down to daily behavior and the choices we make,” says Elissa Epel, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), who studies stress and aging. “We have a growing set of studies of people from around the world showing that aging is not just an aspect of genetics but of how we live.” 

Let’s take a look at these solutions and other ways to help you stay independent as you age at home.

Embrace technology

Technology aimed at helping seniors’ maintain quality of life is a largely growing niche in the tech world. From medical alert systems with 24/7 fall detection to medical tracking gadgets that monitor your health and offer feedback, these technological products provide additional safety and security for seniors that are easy to use. Connected home technology, including smart locks, lights and automated thermostats you can adjust on your phone or tablet can also make life more convenient. 

Maintain your social life

Community is key to a long lasting life, research shows. Even in times of Covid-19 seniors can still stay connected to family, friends, and loved ones. WayWiser, for example, offers an easy way to stay connected virtually by using the social communications platform, Slack, where you can do everything from share photos with each other to update friends and family on your daily routines.

Stay active

According to federal exercise guidelines, adults up to age 64 should get at least 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity per week. But only about half of those adults, and 42 percent of people ages 65 to 74, meet this recommendation, researchers claim.

As Evie mentioned, part of her feeling healthy and staying fit included sticking to an active routine that included both walking and gardening. As we age we often begin to see changes in our bodies, including everything from forgetting things more often or having a hard time with mobility, but many of these health issues can be prevented by keeping up with a daily routine and exercise. 

Stay positive

Your frame of mind and outlook on life can play a major role in how you age. According to research from Johns Hopkins, people who had a family history of heart disease who also had a positive outlook on life were one-third less likely to have a cardiovascular event than those with a more negative outlook. Even research from a study conducted by the University of Kansas found that smiling—even fake smiling—reduces heart rate and blood pressure during stressful situations. A positive attitude can boost the immune system, reduce stress, and increase our lifespan. 

Have another question? Ask an expert.

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