In just a few days, we will be celebrating July 4th. It’s always a fun celebration with barbecues, picnics and fireworks. But make no mistake, the real celebration is about freedom. It got me thinking. If freedom and independence are hallmarks of our society – how does that relate to us seniors? We all want to live independently with dignity but aging can sometimes make that difficult. And loss of independence can be very discouraging when we have spent our lives working, raising families and making decisions. It is particularly vexing when our children think they know what’s better for us than we do!
As a reader of this column, you must know I believe we are all empowered to make choices in our lifestyles that result in our feeling “happy, not crappy!” with greater emotional and physical health. With this in mind, here are some actions you can take to help you stay independent, free to make your own decisions:
- Work on Balance and Strength
The big fear for most of us is falling. That’s why working on balance and strength must be constantly urged into being through movement and exercise. It is your first defense against falling and will help you to continue walking, dancing and gardening throughout the day. If your balance is compromised, don’t be shy about using assistive devices like a cane, walker and railings. And always be mindful of where and how you are walking, so pay attention to your feet and your surroundings when walking.
- Don’t stop making choices for yourself.
Perhaps you are no longer making certain decisions for yourself. That’s ok, it happens. What’s critically important though is that you continue to make decisions on those things that arein your control. What you wear, what you eat, what surrounds you (furniture, personal items and most importantly, pictures) and what you do with your time.
- Maintain Your Sense of Purpose
The research into happiness is very clear that having a purpose – something that gives meaning to your life – is critical. Without a clear purpose, humans languish. What is your purpose? Some questions to ask yourself to help you: What gets you excited? What is it that you do that when you do it time just flies? Do you enjoy being alone or with others? Do you enjoy helping others? What is your gift? (Music, art, poetry, dance, math, teaching, organizing) How can you share your gift(s)? Even if you are limited by mobility, you can still volunteer and be an important cog in a larger wheel.
- Eat Smart
Eat a diet of whole, unprocessed foods and limit sugar intake to 35 grams per day. It’s no secret that the food you eat directly affects your brain and heart. Limiting (or eliminating) ultra-processed ‘frankenfood’ is an important step toward cognitive and cardiac health allowing you to maintain your independence.
- Keep Learning
Your brain is not static. Continued learning literally stretches and expands its capabilities. Use your non-dominant hand for routine tasks and NEVER STOP LEARNING! Whether it’s an instrument, a new language, your smart phone or computer, keep challenging your brain and you will be rewarded with continued cognitive health.
Be a Savvy Senior! Exercise your freedom to stay healthy so you can continue to be independent and in charge of your life.