You’re as Young as You FeelPosted on by
Do you remember your first black and white television? Did you ever wonder how crawling under your desk could protect you from an atomic bomb? Did you watch the Beatles when they made their first American appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show?
If you can answer yes to these questions, you are very likely a “baby boomer,” born after World War II from 1946 through 1964.By 1965, baby boomers made up over 40% of the U.S. population. In 2011, the U.S. Census estimated persons aged 65 and older made up 13% of the U.S. population and that percentage is expected to continue to rise. The growth of the aging population is not only caused by the baby boomer generation; healthier lifestyles and improved medical care are also contributing factors.
Many people enjoy their “golden” years and stay healthy and active well into later life. Practicing positive health-related behaviors such as not smoking, getting regular physical activity, and eating a healthy diet can substantially lower an older person’s risk of chronic disease and injury.
Your city, town, or neighborhood can also help you stay healthy as you grow older. Making cities more age-friendly promotes the well-being and contributions of older residents and keeps neighborhoods diverse and age-friendly. Outdoor spaces that promote activity, safe and convenient housing, readily available transportation options and social opportunities can help aging seniors (and everyone else) maintain a healthy lifestyle.
CDC’s Healthy Community Design Initiative (HCDI) promotes communities whose physical environments help Americans “age in place” and promote healthy living. HCDI provides funding for Health Impact Assessments (HIAs), online toolkits, research, education and training around the U.S. to improve public health through community design.
Age-friendly outdoor spaces
Older adults who regularly participate in physical activity and social interaction are more likely to enjoy a better quality of life. Walking, biking, and fitness trails are appropriate for people at various levels of fitness. Open, safe, well-maintained, and well-lit parks, green spaces, and sidewalks encourage everyone to be more physically active. And features such as pedestrian crossings, traffic islands, crossing lights and audio signals make streets safer.
Through their “Health Impact Assessment to Foster Healthy Community Design” grants, HCDI helps cities and towns determine whether proposed planning and policy changes will have a positive health impact. A CDC-funded HIA conducted in Davidson, North Carolina, for example, resulted in rewriting street design standards to improve street construction and add more signs, sidewalks and bike lanes. These changes help improve health equity across all ages and abilities by increasing physical activity, mobility, and access to services.
Age-friendly housing and built environments
Research has shown that older adults prefer to stay in their own homes and communities as they age. Staying in your home is easier if you can walk or take public transportation to your daily needs. Programs that offer no- and low-cost door-to-door transportation services to destinations such as adult day care, senior centers and doctor appointments can also help. Unfortunately, not all neighborhoods offer these services.
As a result, many communities are transforming into Lifelong Communities–places where individuals can live throughout their lifetime. Lifelong Communities provide a full range of options to residents, insuring a high quality of life for all. This includes a variety of housing types for people of all ages and abilities who want to stay in their communities their entire lives.
In 2011 the San Francisco Department of Public Health conducted a CDC-funded HIA evaluating potential health impacts of a transportation and land-use plan for a formerly industrial area around the expanding Central Subway. This area is changing into a neighborhood where people can live and work. The goal is to make the area more walkable and encourage mixed-use and higher density development. The goal benefits all, including older adults, by creating a healthy and safe community environment – one of the Strategic Directions of the National Prevention Strategy to fully support Americans in leading longer and healthier lives.
Communities with a safe and secure pedestrian environment and convenient public transportation can offer an alternative to driving for older adults and help them remain independent, active, and engaged. HCDI partners with CDC’s National Environmental Public Health Tracking Program to monitor transportation use in cities across the country. The Tracking Portal can help cities learn about most-used transportation options and how they affect health.
Walking, bicycling, or taking public transportation can increase physical activity, which in turn may affect a person’s health. Using these options also reduces traffic congestion and air pollution from cars as well as traffic related fatalities.
Age-friendly social, civic, and employment opportunities
Social interaction is important for everyone and can help keep older adults engaged and mentally and emotionally healthy. Communities can help by providing
- Conveniently located, affordable events for aging adults
- Information and opportunities to help senior citizens stay active, engaged and independent
- Volunteer options and flexible, fairly-paid opportunities for employment
HCDI grants funded HIAs in neighborhoods in Omaha and Boston to evaluate the health impacts of creating and improving local parks and community gardens and kitchens in underserved areas. These locations not only increase physical activity opportunities and access to healthy foods, but also provide safe, central locations for connecting community members of all ages.
Aging in place benefits communities
Planning communities that are safe and accessible for aging seniors actually benefits the entire community. Livable communities for all ages allow people to maintain control of their own wellbeing and can help reduce health disparities. And families of older adults can feel better knowing that seeks to continually improve their loved ones’ quality of life.
Learn more by visiting the following websites:
- CDC’s Healthy Aging & the Built Environment
- Active for Life Program
- National Council on Aging’s Center for Healthy Aging
- National Blueprint