A juicy orange. A handful of crunchy walnuts sprinkled on a leafy green salad. A sweet, sun-ripened pear. Turns out clean, natural foods like these don’t just taste great, they help you maintain your independence and mobility for decades to come.
In a fascinating new study, researchers from Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital examined the eating habits and health records of 54,762 women over about 28 years. Those who ate the most produce, healthy fats and lean proteins — and who steered clear of food felons such as sugary drinks, trans fats and too much alcohol — were 13 percent more likely to stay mobile and independent, compared with those whose diets were less healthy.
That’s big news. More mobility means more freedom to live the life you want. It also keeps your body and mind younger while cutting your risk for heart disease, diabetes and depression, and even speeding recovery after surgery. Here are a few tips to keep you moving well and independently:
▪ Say “yes” to stay-mobile foods: Munch produce at every meal and in every snack, from berries and walnuts on your breakfast cereal and a banana for a 3 o’clock pick-me-up to a double-size helping of green beans at dinner. Opt for frozen berries instead of ice cream, or your favorite salad greens (arugula, kale) instead of potato salad. Keep a bowl of fruit salad in the fridge where you can see it every time you open the door. Same goes for veggies (instead of chips or pretzels), such as snow peas, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, mild peppers. Aim for seven to 10 servings a day.
Meanwhile, steer clear of added sugars, syrups and sweeteners, refined grains, trans fats, excess saturated fat and gobs of extra sodium.
▪ Move: In one recent University of Pittsburgh study of 818 older adults, those who took a 30-minute daily walk boosted the odds that they’d maintain the ability to stay active by 28 percent. They also did 10 minutes of balance exercises and 10 minutes of strength training several times a week. That’s easy!
It’s notable that the study looked at people who were already in danger of losing their ability to stay independently mobile — defined in the study as having the strength, balance and endurance to walk a quarter-mile on their own. Those who strolled regularly held on to that asset, which makes every pleasure, such as shopping, going out to a concert or visiting friends and family, possible.
▪ Keep your eyes and ears sharp: Keep your eyeglasses prescription up-to-date with vision checks as recommended by your doctor. Take care of your hearing, too. It’s important to have both of these senses sharp so you can move with confidence. If you wear progressive lenses, be sure you can see clearly while you walk. In one recent study, older adults made foot-placement errors while walking when they looked through the lens area intended for close-up reading. These little mistakes boost your risk for trips, falls and balance problems, especially on rough pavements, curbs and steps. The study authors suggest that it may be safer for some people to wear lenses adjusted only for distance vision while moving around.
▪ Use canes and walkers the right way: These devices can help you stay mobile by providing extra help with balance and support. No wonder one in four Americans over 70 uses one (or rides in a wheelchair or on a scooter). The downside of walking aids: They also can boost your risk for a fall if used incorrectly. In one recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of 47,000 emergency-room visits related to cane and walker accidents, researchers found that mistakes with these devices led to hip and pelvis fractures. Work with a physical therapist or occupational therapist to get a cane or walker that’s right for you, and learn to use this equipment properly. It will keep you mobile and up to speed.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is chief wellness officer and chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit sharecare.com.