By: Dr. Beth Templin
I was recently introduced to the concept of life space. By definition, it is a spatial representation of all the forces that control a person's behavior.
In practical terms, it refers to how big your community is. As we age, our life space tends to shrink, due to increased difficulty with mobility. For example, some seniors can retain their independence and travel across the world well into their retirement; they have a big life space. Others are nervous about leaving the country, due to mobility limitations and restrict their travel to the US; their life space is smaller.
Some aging adults don’t feel confident leaving their city. Still, others have difficulty safely navigating outside of their home. The most deconditioned and fragile seniors have challenges leaving their homes. Soon, their life space may just become 1-2 rooms in the house.
The biggest predictor of how big your life space will be is your mobility. As you begin to struggle with walking and stairs, your life space, and your world, begin to shrink around you. For most people, this happens slowly over time.
What I often find surprising, when we work with people, is how quickly they lose their endurance. Even those who are still relatively independent can lose the ability to sustain long distances of walking. For some, daily life consists of walking household distances, walking to and from the car, in and out of a store, restaurant, or doctor’s office.
Most of these distances are not more than a couple hundred feet. Sometimes, the longest distance someone walks all week is when they go to the grocery store, where they have the assistance of a cart. The problem with this is people often become so deconditioned without realizing it. It sneaks up on them. Then, when they want to do something that requires them to have more stamina, they fail or struggle significantly.
So, what can you do to increase your life space if it has started to shrink? The first thing you need to do is to come up with a plan. To regain your life space, you need to build not only your endurance, but your strength and balance back up, as well. The best way to do this is with exercise.
When you add regular exercise into your life, not only will you improve your life space, but you will also improve your life span.
Life span refers to how many years you will live and it can be increased by 3-5 years by exercising. Additionally, regular physical activity will also improve your health span, or the number of years you can live disease-free. This is the goal of most seniors I work with.
All of these things add up to an improved quality of life, which of course refers to how well you can enjoy your life. We know that by maintaining your mobility and your health you will have an overall improved enjoyment of life. But it can be hard to figure it out all on your own.
As a team, we decided we wanted to help people increase their life space and maintain, or regain, the ability to participate in a variety of activities, travel, and enjoy life without being limited by their physical capacity.
This is why we are challenging ourselves and our community to the Saint Patrick’s Day 5k or 5-mile walk. We’ve created a training program and will be with you on this journey. For more information, check out page 4. If this seems like an impossible goal, don’t worry we will be there to support you the whole way. We can’t wait to walk with you and increase your life space together!
Dr. Beth helps adults 55+ maximize their independence and fitness, so they can continue to enjoy a full and active life.