A friend and I recently were discussing how the aging process has snuck up on us. Both of us were sidelined for a while by plantar fasciitis. Since then, we’ve tried to resume active lifestyles, but find it’s more difficult than it used to be go get into shape. We’re also seeing our bodies change as we go through the menopausal transition.
Yet, the other thing we talked about is recommitting to maintaining a healthy lifestyle so we can continue to live the kind of life we want to have. What we’re talking about here is healthy aging. “’Healthy aging’ refers to both the quality and quantity of life—adding life to our years and years to our life,” states the website of the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. So why is lifestyle such an important part of aging? A new study out of France addressed this issue in relation to disabilities.
The researchers followed 3,982 study participants from Dijon, France over a 12-year period. All participants were 65 years old or above and did not have a disability when the study started. Slightly more than 60 percent of the study participants were women.
The researchers assessed the participants’ lifestyle behaviors, such as smoking, consumption of fruits and vegetables, physical activity and alcohol consumption.
By the end of 12 years, the researchers looked at how well the participants could do activities of daily living, such as walking, bathing and dressing themselves, climbing stairs, managing money, managing medications, using a telephone, doing housework, shopping, and using public or private transportation.
Their assessment found that 1,236 (or 31 percent) study participants had developed a moderate or severe disability related to these tasks. The participants who were experiencing difficultly were older and more likely to be women. They also fund that these participants were less educated and were in worse overall health.
The researchers’ analysis also found the following:
- Participants who were inactive or only moderately physically active had a 72-percent increased risk of disability, independent of any other unhealthy habits.
- Participants who smoked or who had recently quit had a 26-percent increased risk of disability.
- Participants who consumed fruits and vegetables less than once a day has a 24-percent increased risk of disability.
- Participants who had all three of these unhealthy behaviors were twice as likely to develop disabilities as participants who didn’t have any of these unhealthy behaviors.
- No association was identified between alcohol consumption and disability risk.
The researchers also determined that approximately 30 percent of the association between unhealthy behaviors and disability could be linked to factors such as mental decline, depression, higher body mass index, chronic disease, cardiovascular disease and depression.
So what should you be aiming for as far as your lifestyle choices? Obviously, quitting smoking is a no-brainer (as is not starting to smoke). I’ve also listed some other recommendations from experts.