We're Living Longer
The average U.S. life expectancy is now at 78 - how to get
there gracefully by exercising, eating well and keeping your mind
and spirit engaged
Besse Cooper of Georgia holds a place in the Guinness World
Records book-not because of a hidden talent but because, at 115,
she's believed to be the world's oldest person.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the average life
expectancy in the United States is 78 years. That makes Cooper's
115 birthday candles downright amazing. It also denotes that
Americans must be doing something right when it comes to healthy
So, what is it that that you're doing right? Or, rather, should
be doing right? Turns out, it's all about how you move your
Fitness Fights Disease
Physical activity seems to be the magic bullet in terms of
fighting disease, reducing depression and aging well. "When we talk
about older adults and the ways they age and the chronic conditions
they develop, they tend to lose mobility slowly," says Sue
Lachenmayr, a senior program associate at the National Council on
Aging's Center for Healthy Aging. "We should encourage seniors to
participate in physical activities, but it's important to take
small steps toward reaching shortterm goals."
Whether that goal is simply getting strong enough to walk to the
mailbox, garnering enough energy to dance the cha-cha at your
granddaughter's wedding, or maintaining a high level of physical
activity into your golden years, a fitness routine should be
tailor-made to your fitness level, lifestyle and support
"The best activities are those that a person will do," says
Carole Carson, an AARP health coach and author of From Fat to Fit:
Turn Yourself into a Weapon of Mass Reduction. "For seniors at
home, chair dancing videos may be the answer. For others, a daily
walk-and talk- with a girlfriend will promote fitness. Tai chi may
be helpful for those with arthritis."
More than ever, Carson adds, seniors are discovering the athlete
within. For those who played sports when they were younger, that
may mean joining the United States Tennis Association and playing
competitive tennis with other seniors. Carson did just that. "I
traded a rocking chair for a tennis racket," she says.
Surround Yourself in Support
What's more, there seems to be a strong connection between
healthy behaviors- such as getting your fi tness on-and good mental
health, specifi cally in the prevention of such cognitive disorders
as Alzheimer's disease.
"One of the things we recognize is that depression is often
underdiagnosed and left untreated in older adults," Lachenmayr
says. "Someone who may be isolated may not have the opportunity to
do a lot of things, while people with a stronger social network may
make better choices for their health. Any number of chronic
conditions are improved or delayed through physical activity."
So, you've found your exercise groove, you're eating well and
you're engaging with friends and family. What happens when you hit
that dreaded fi tness plateau, or, worse, suffer a minor
Stay connected. Often, fit people run in circles of other fit
people, and they can serve as role models, encouraging you to get
back on track. If a nagging injury is plaguing you, massage can go
a long way toward prompting recovery.
"Massage can improve a senior's range of motion and joint
flexibility, stimulate the body's natural defense system, stretch
tight muscles and improve circulation," Carson says. "And for
seniors living alone, massage is a unique activity where the touch
of another person increases body awareness while reducing the sense
of isolation. People of all ages, but especially seniors, can
benefit from those results."
-By Kelly Kramer