If you live alone, you’re not...well, alone. From 1940 to 2003, the percentage of single-person households in the United States rose by over 1000%, from 2.7% of all households to 27%. There are now more single-person households than traditional family households (two parents with children) in this country.
I’ve been living alone for about eight years now, after many years of marriage and/or parenting, and I frequently wonder whether this makes it easier or harder for me to keep my healthy lifestyle on track. It seems to do a little of both.
I never lived alone for long as a young adult. I spent quite a few years living commune-style in the Haight-Ashbury in the late 60s and 70's, and got married soon after that. So, I never really had to deal with the social stigma that used to be attached to single people of "marrying age." Fortunately, the big change in numbers of people living alone has also changed that attitude to a substantial degree . These days, living alone is more widely recognized as a practical and functional alternative for many people, not a sign of psychopathology or weirdness.
There is some statistical evidence that, for some people (especially those over 50), living alone is associated with increased risks for some medical and emotional problems, such as depression, anxiety, and heart disease. But it's not at all clear that living alone directly causes these problems; rather, there may be other factors that happen to be associated both with living alone and with the medical issues. I don't think my health issues or health care have been negatively affected by living alone.
Time-wise, living alone definitely makes things easier. Once I have my work responsibilities handled, I can do what I want, when I want. That makes it very easy for me to fit in lots of exercise time. I actually look forward to getting myself out of the apartment and on my bike, heading out for a long ride, or a trip to the beach or the local redwood forest.
Part of the enjoyment I get from this is attributable to the wonderful places I get to go, and the outdorphins provided by being outside in natural places. And part of it comes from not being at home alone, where I’d likely be getting pretty bored with myself, and hanging around the refrigerator a lot. That’s probably one of the reasons I spend as much time exercising as I do.
On the other hand, I do like my alone time, too. I love to read all kinds of things, from stuff about exercise science and nutrition, to philosophy, politics, and good poetry. And it’s very nice being able to listen to a favorite song 5 or 6 times in a row without someone complaining about it, or leave the dishes in the sink for a day or two.
I used to do a lot of socializing, back in my heavy drinking days, but without the “liquid courage,” that really doesn’t appeal to me much any more. I'm pretty shy, even uncomfortable, around people I don't know real well, so I tend to do better with a computer screen between me and the rest of the world. Sometimes I wonder whether I'm letting my social anxiety get in the way of doing things I "should" be doing to have more of a social life, but so far at least, doing things with my granddaughter, spending time on line here, and hanging out with the redwood trees and the sand dunes seems to work pretty well for me. I don't feel lonely very often.
I used to be a pretty good cook, and that is probably what’s changed the most since I started living alone. It’s pretty hard to work up the energy and interest to prepare a nice meal just for myself. My diet is healthy enough, but it’s limited to about 10 or 15 staples that I eat all the time, and none of them require much cooking. I just moved into a new place about 7 weeks ago, and I still haven’t used the stove or oven. I use a crockpot for making soups, lentil stews, beans and rice, and chili, and throw in different seasonings to make these concoctions taste different from time to time. And I use a microwave for heating up leftovers and making my morning oatmeal. Otherwise, it’s pretty much yogurt and frozen berries, apples and peanut butter or cheese, peanut butter and banana sandwiches, microwave popcorn, and my daily bar of dark chocolate or M&M peanuts.
This all works for me pretty well, most of the time. But if something happens that pushes my anxiety level up pretty high, it gets pretty easy and tempting not to even bother with the crockpot meals and head straight for the peanut butter jar. Without the structure of having to cook for someone else, the first thing that goes out the window when I’m having a bad day is my nutrition. I don’t necessarily overeat, but peanut butter on a spoon does not a balanced diet make, lol.
So, that’s my story. What’s yours? Does living alone make it harder or easier for you to live a healthy lifestyle?
What tricks have you found for keeping yourself on track?
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