King and Guralnik, JAMA 304:1944-1945, 2010.
The aging of the world’s population is evidence by the projected increase in adults older than 60 from the current 10% to 20% by 2050. The increased chronic disease survival rate, the increasing obesity among midlife and older adults, and the increased rate of deconditioning in older adults all combine to create an increase in disability in the older population. These two factors promise to challenge communities and countries abilities to care for and support their aging adult population. These authors review and comment on decreasing the burden of disability on society by improving or maintaining the functional health of our aging population. Two pathways are physical activity and social engagement.
Physical activity is an important strategy for preventing or reducing many of the adverse consequences of chronic disease, obesity and disuse. A summary of the evidence supports several principles: (1) Increases from sedentary to even low levels of physical activity (such as slow-paced walking) can improve function, decrease hospitalization rates, and protect against chronic disease conditions in older patients. (2) Regular physical activity may reduce the incidence of dementia and delay the onset of age-associated cognitive decline. (3) Moving more and sitting less are emerging as complementary and independent approaches to optimizing health and function in the later years. (4) It is generally never too late to enhance function and improve quality of life through increasing physical activity levels, even when chronic disease or substantial functional loss already exist.
Social engagement represents another potential pathway for promoting functional health. Personal investment in community service can not only benefit the volunteer but also society in general. These volunteer activities give people a sense of purpose and result in an increase in physical activity as well as improvements in cognitive and social activity.
Dr. Albrecht’s comments:
Maintaining function through an active life style can be achieved by myriad approaches, including incorporating walking and other physical activities during leisure, engaging in walking or cycling for transport purposes, and participating in active social pursuits. When older adults share their wealth of knowledge and experience through community service and volunteer activities, society as well as the individual profit. These activities provide an opportunity for the burgeoning older population to not only maintain independence but also to help support younger generations just as those generations will eventually need to support them.
Even though these opportunities are available to everyone, motivation may be lacking in many older adults. If you are older, get motivated. If you are younger and have older parents or friends, motivate them. Everyone benefits.