Being Physical is Key to Maintaining Independence

. Posted in Journey to Healthy Aging Blog

– By Alison Kennedy Hand, MS, Wellness Director, Florida Presbyterian Homes

In a recent February study in the Journal of American Medical Association, one in four women over the age of 65 were unable to walk two blocks or climb a flight of stairs. Known as mobility disability, it is the leading type of incapacity in the U.S. and key contributor to a person losing their independence

Researchers followed 5,000 women for up to six years.  Participants wore a research accelerometer for seven days to obtain accurate measures of their physical activity. The average time spent doing light physical activity was 4.8 hours/day. Examples of light physical activity included washing and drying dishes, gardening, and walking at a pace of about 1.5 mph, such as done when shopping. The study found that women who spent time doing light intensity physical activity had a 46% lower risk of mobility loss compared to those who engaged in low levels of physical activity. Women with and without obesity also reduced their risk of mobility disability but the benefit was strongest in women with a Body Mass Index of less than 30.

“More focus should be on the importance of light physical activity to improve the health and well-being of older women,” said the study’s co-author Dr. John Bellettiere. “Doing so may help women maintain mobility and independence as they age.”

This information is important when considering a person’s physical wellness — defined as the ability to maintain a healthy quality of life that allows one to get through daily activities without undue fatigue or physical stress. The goal of living independently is one shared by many people, and physical wellness is necessary to achieve this. Lifestyle choices that can maintain or improve health and functional ability include engaging in physical activity as mentioned in the study above, as well as choosing healthy food, getting adequate sleep, managing stress, limiting alcohol intake, not smoking, making appointments for check-ups and following medical recommendations.

It’s important to note that the physical dimension of wellness also involves personal responsibility and disease prevention. Being physically fit and feeling physically well often leads to the psychological benefits of enhanced self-esteem, self-control, and decreases in depression. And, as the study has proven, maintaining physical wellness is key to maintaining independence as one ages.

Sources:;; University of California – San Diego (February 23, 2021); Glass NL, et al. Evaluation of light physical activity measured by accelerometry and mobility disability during a 6-year follow-up in older women. JAMA Network Open, 2021; 4(2): e210005 DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.0005

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