Jane is 52 years old. She suffers chronic neck pain and impaired mobility, resulting from an occupational violence attack. But she needs to continue her activities in the domestic domain and understands the importance of staying active despite the pain.
This is not easy. Although Jane’s house was designed for her ageing parents, the surrounding footpaths are dangerous, and she has already tripped a couple of times. Jane is also a quiet person who enjoys intimate social interactions in the comfort of her own home.
John is a socially and mentally active 44-year old who admits to mildly excessive alcohol consumption and periods of depression. He stays physically active to keep fit and get around.
With an aversion to driving, cycling is his preferred mode of transport. He hopes his physical health will allow him to continue. John lives close to a natural enjoyment which facilitates outdoor physical activities.
Mobility, independence and aging
As Jane and John age, mobility will become an increasingly important theme in their lives. Their independence will count on it.
A comprehensive survey of long-term studies covering 12.6 million older adults found that mobility improved quality of life and body function capacity and reduced medical expenditure.
Grocery shopping, housework, gardening, visiting friends and family, personal hygiene, going to appointments are things we take for granted. But impaired mobility and chronic conditions in aging can have a significant impact on these daily activities.
“Life space”, the space within which people move in their daily lives, impacts mobility – people who have restricted life space tend to be less mobile.
Walking is an activity that can easily be included in a daily routine as a form of transport to increase life space, thereby enhancing mobility and health.
John and Jane both identify Tai Chi as an activity that they could enjoy in 25 years. It is low impact, and as a bonus includes meditation and breathing for mental relaxation.
Global public health policies increasingly target healthy aging. To this end, a lifestyle index was developed to identify key factors related to aging well.
Core components of the index are vigorous and moderate physical activity, consuming fruit and vegetables, regular meals, plenty of fluids, and psychosocial factors – social engagement, networking and life satisfaction.
There is an interactive element to these. For instance, eating well reduces risk of overweight and chronic disease, both of which restrict mobility. Being socially active, like John, will enhance opportunities to be active.
In turn, higher mobility will enable greater engagement in social networks and activities.
Active aging policies could support people like Jane to be mobile by improving sidewalks and providing walking trails.
More broadly, policies across multiple sectors will empower older adults to remain independent, active community members – characteristic of a healthy, humane society.