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Outer Limits: Staying Independent Longer

July 28, 2009

Quality of life is determined, in part, by how well we are able to live independently. According to a report issued by the National Center for Health Statistics, on average older adults are living longer without experiencing a significant loss of independence in performing a wide range of activities. “Physical limitations,” measured by the inability to perform daily tasks without aid—like walking a few blocks, climbing 10 steps without resting, using your fingers to grasp or handle small objects and carrying a full bag of groceries—are occurring later in life. However, there are differences in abilities between many groups of Americans. As expected, the prevalence of having one or more physical limitations as well as the prevalence of having three or more physical limitations increases with advancing age. Almost 43% of adults ages 80 and over have physical limitations, with about 27% having three or more. (By comparison, physical limitations affect 17%  of those ages 50 to 59, 23% of those 60 to 69 and 31% of those 70 to 79.) Also, women in every age group, minorities and those with less than a high school education also have higher rates of physical limitations. While the report offers statistics, not recommendations for preventing physical limitations, guidelines from the CDC and leading health organizations stress staying active and physically fit—which for women in particular needs to include strength training, eating a health diet and working with your doctor to prevent or treat debilitating illnesses like high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes are vital steps to take.