How to Retain Independence as We Age

Portrait of relaxed mature couple having a glass of wine at campsite. Senior man and woman toasting wine at on summer day.


One of the biggest fears people say they have about growing older is losing their independence, either due to illness, physical limitations, or simply an aging body that doesn’t perform as well as it used to. Freedom to live our lives the way we choose is part of the American dream. To ensure that we’re able to continue living our lives how we choose as we age, it helps to start planning early! If you haven’t started a Healthy Aging Plan yet, make today your starting point. Here are some tips to ensure you’re able to stay independent as you age:

Start exercising

If you don’t already have a regular exercise routine, start one. Exercise is one of the most important ways to maintain a healthy body as we age. As we mentioned in a previous post, even when started late in life, exercise can lower your risk for chronic disease, physical disability and memory loss. An ideal workout should consist of aerobic exercise (walking, running, swimming, dancing), strength training (lifting weights or using a resistance band), and movement and flexibility practices (simple stretching, yoga, tai chi). Even if you live with a chronic condition or disability, exercise is important and can be modified to fit your needs. Always talk to your physician before starting an exercise routine.

Eat healthfully

“You are what you eat” according the old adage, and it may have more truth that anyone realized. We discussed some of the best foods to eat to maintain good health. Mediterranean-style diets, which focus on eating fruits and vegetables, fish, nuts, beans, whole grains and healthy fats like olive oil have shown to have numerous benefits. A recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that over 28 percent of people who had metabolic syndrome (a group of risk factors – high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and abdominal fat – for heart disease) before the study and who followed a Mediterranean diet for a period of almost five years, no longer met the criteria for metabolic syndrome. This was significantly better than people in the study who were on a low-fat diet, which is another example that simply cutting fat out of one’s diet isn’t necessarily the healthiest dietary option. People on the Mediterranean diet supplemented their diet with either nuts or extra virgin olive oil, two substances both very high in fat.

Keep an active social life

People who are socially active tend to get sick less and have healthier minds. As we mentioned in this post, socializing is critical for maintaining both psychological and mental health as we age. According to a study conducted by geriatricians and the University of California, San Francisco, 43 percent of seniors report feeling lonely at least some of the time. They also discovered that loneliness can be dangerous to one’s health. In this study, seniors who felt lonely had a 45 percent greater risk of death than those who felt connected to others. Whether it’s meeting friends for coffee, volunteering, getting a pet or chatting online, connecting with others goes a long way in creating a healthful and enjoyable life as we age.

Keep a positive attitude

Your attitude about life has a lot to do with how well you age. Numerous studies have shown that our thoughts can affect our physical well-being. A positive attitude can boost the immune system, reduce stress, and increase our lifespan. In a study conducted at 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.

Make your medical/end-of-life wishes known

One of the scariest things in life is the thought of losing our ability to make decisions about our well-being, due to an accident or illness. You can preserve your independence in these situations by appointing a health care proxy (or power of attorney for health care). The person you chose as your agent has the ability to make medical decisions on your behalf in you are unable to do so.  Also consider creating a personal directive or living will. This document lets your loved ones and healthcare providers know what kind of medical treatment you would want – and what measures you don’t want taken – in the event you are unable to make these decisions for yourself.