We all want long, happy, healthy lives. But what does it really mean to age in a healthy way? A new study is pointing to one key indicator: Mobility, reported U.S. News and World Report on September 17. And it's also offering a way for doctors to evaluate seniors more carefully to discover potential problems early.
To conduct their study, researchers analyzed reports published between 1985 and 2012 that focused on mobility and aging.
"The review confirmed that increased physical activity and exercise are extremely important for healthy aging," said Dr. Cynthia Brown, of the division of gerontology, geriatrics and palliative care at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Because mobility problems can provide early red flags of functional decline in older people, Brown suggests that primary care doctors ask the following questions:
- For health or physical reasons, do you have difficulty climbing up 10 steps or walking a quarter of a mile?
- Because of underlying health or physical reasons, have you modified the way you climb 10 steps or walk a quarter of a mile?
Difficulties or modifications "can tell a clinician a great deal about the level of mobility in their older patients," said Brown.
Depending on the answer, doctors can then provide their patients with guidance, such as mobility devices that can help them stay active without risking falls.
"Mobility is one of the cornerstones of healthy aging," she said. "With an increasing older population in the United States, it is incumbent on us to find ways to help older Americans continue to live well and independently. The major barriers -- lack of physical activity, obesity and smoking -- are all risk factors that can be successfully overcome with appropriate treatment and assistance."
The American Academy of Family Physicians site offers guidance to people over 60 on how to stay active. Their emphasis: It doesn't require a lot of time or boot-camp-style efforts to get fit or maintain a healthy level of activity.
"For most people, walking is one of the easiest activities to do. Experts recommend at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week, but you don't have to do all 30 minutes at once," say these experts.
They recommend walking 15 minutes twice a day, or even dividing your fitness activities into three 10-minute segments. To stay motivated, exercise with a partner, whether it's a neighbor, a friend or your best buddy Fido.