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Mobility one of the best indicators for healthy aging

September 27, 2013

There are many factors that go into healthy aging. Everything from diet to mental health plays a significant role, but a new study analyzing studies conducted over the previous 27 years suggests that seniors' level of mobility is often the best measurement of their ability to enjoy healthy senior living. The findings, published in Journal of the American Medical Association, highlight the substantial importance of staying physically active and engaged.

Widespread evidence
The study was led by scientists from the University of Alabama, Birmingham and was focused on reviewing research conducted between 1985 and 2012. Scientists found that mobility issues are often the earliest indicators that seniors may encounter health issues and should signal to caregivers that it may be time to intervene. Lead author Dr. Cynthia Brown says early recognition of limited mobility is key to helping seniors remain independent. 

"Mobility limitations are the edge of that slippery slope that leads to loss of function," Brown said. "A decline in mobility seems to quickly lead to an across-the-board decline, including the routine activities of daily living. Mobility is a sort of barometer for how well an older person ages."

Recognizing the signs
Aside from significant indicators, such as falls, primary care physicians should focus on asking questions to determine whether their patients are having mobility issues. For instance, asking whether someone has difficulty going up steps, walking one-quarter mile or if they have modified the way they walk can determine whether they have any problems.

Taking action
While recognizing the signs is certainly important, it's even more crucial to take action. There are a number of ways seniors can improve or maintain their physical function to ensure their mobility does not become limited as they get older. Certain exercises can help improve seniors' ability to get from place to place, the Mayo Clinic notes. For instance, activities that focus on balance and flexibility are important and can help seniors move about more confidently.

Turning one's attention toward the home can also have an impact. Installing grab bars, improving lighting and removing tripping hazards such as rugs, may encourage senior residents to be more physically active and also help them avoid falls.