My Dad turns 88 this summer, my Mom is 86. Always the more hale and hearty of the two, most of us assumed Dad would outlive Mom. I’m not so sure anymore. While he still golfs regularly – three times a week with his Army buddies – his 42 years of active duty Army service have taken their toll.
He’s had at least two major, devastating life-altering conditions – cancer and profound hearing loss (and I think the deafness has had the greater impact, interestingly) – directly attributable to these years, and a host of other issues I strongly suspect were exacerbated by them. Ask him, though, if, knowing what he knows now, would he do it again – his answer is a resounding “YES!”I try to get up to visit them (they live a couple hours away in Pennsylvania) regularly, and it always pains me a bit to see the changes – some subtle, some not so. A couple times a year, over his protestations, I take him a new pair of running shoes, hoping to encourage his continued walking, which he does on the days he’s not golfing.
He always protests, of course, being of one of the generations that were strongly impacted and influenced by the Great Depression, “But I’ve only had them six months!” He, of course, would wear a pair till they literally fell apart, but over the years I think I’ve convinced him that not only can I get them at a a fantastic running and walking store at a good price, but I take his old shoes and donate them to a good cause (PPP Africa – see last month’s article), so they’re experiencing the “moral equivalent” of a much longer life.
I’ve also tried over the years, and failed spectacularly, to get him into a much more structured, regular, supervised full body exercise program, but he never saw the value in it. During one of my visits a couple of years ago, on the pretense of wanting to check out the local running store, he and I visited the co-located fitness facility, with its state-of-the-art machines and young, enthusiastic, fit staff. Even the very attractive fitness instructor with whom he’d be working didn’t sway him. I’d all but given up, when I got an email from him last week with a bit of very surprising good news.
Mom and Dad recently sold their retirement home of 30 years and moved into a “retirement community” just down the road (and this transition is itself fodder for another human interest story, I suspect). It has all the amenities you’d expect for such a community, including a small, but extremely well outfitted fitness facility and indoor pool. On a recent visit, after having dinner in the dining room (the “mess hall” as Mom and Dad call it), we poked our head in and I marveled at the facility, and encouraged Dad to use it. “Yeah, maybe someday.”
Well, it seems Mother Nature has done what years of cajoling on my part couldn’t. Just last week, in the midst of the lingering arctic blast that swept through the area and made it up their way, I got the following email, “With no golf in sight, I went to a scheduled exercise program this afternoon, one hour aimed at movement flexibility, strength and balance. Thought it was beneath me when we started, but got a good workout before it was over and a feel for how awkward I have become with my limited kinds of exercise. I will continue with the program and add workouts in the small but well equipped exercise room adjacent to the pool.” I honestly haven’t read anything that made me happier in a long, long time. Now, if he could only figure out a way to drag Mom along!
I’m hoping they become members of that larger universal group of active older folks like the ones I see regularly at the Thomas Jefferson Recreation Center in Arlington where I go occasionally for workouts. Not a fancy chrome-and-glass modern facility with gleaming new, high-tech equipment, it’s nevertheless a wonderfully well equipped and staffed facility. On any day, you’ll see the two “Pickle Ball” courts in use (I liken it to a combination of tennis and ping-pong, http://www.usapa.org/whatis_pball/index.php), with cut-throat competition on-court, and a line of folks waiting their turn off-court; a class of new moms and their very young babies going through a highly structured post-partum exercise program, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/exercise-after-pregnancy/MY00477; and a host of people shuffling, walking, or running on the eighth-mile indoor track (the same track used by local high schools for winter track meets).
One of my favorite sights on the track is a little old Eastern European woman whom I see regularly. I affectionately call her “Babushka Lady,” and she’s truly one of my heroes. http://russiapedia.rt.com/files/of-russian-origin/babushka/babushka_2-t.jpg. Dressed all in black, from her babushka, to her shawl, ankle-length dress, wool socks, and sturdy “sensible” functional black shoes, she shuffles around the track, leaned over her walker http://i21.geccdn.net/site/images/n-picgroup/DML_10215BL-1.jpg – determination written all over her unbelievably weathered, expressive face. She repeats a series of a walking lap or two, sitting down on her walker for a few minutes, then a few more laps. I’ll be there usually for an hour or so and she’s at it the whole time – she’s usually there when I get there, and still there when I leave. I’m hoping to be in her shape when I’m her age.
She and my Dad are doing what we all need to be doing – weight bearing exercises. Just remember, age IS NOT a determinant of who can benefit by doing weight bearing exercises: http://www.livestrong.com/article/106465-benefits-exercise-skeletal-system/ While important for younger people, this is critically important for older men, http://www.uptodate.com/contents/treatment-of-osteoporosis-in-men?source=see_link, and post-menopausal women, http://www.uptodate.com/contents/overview-of-the-management-of-osteoporosis-in-postmenopausal-women?source=see_link.
- Devising A Workout Plan: Part I (hollydoeshealthy.wordpress.com)
- 3 Odd Bodyweight Exercises you Need in Your Workout Routine NOW. (epicahealth.com)
- Can Exercise Strengthen Bones in the Elderly? (livestrong.com)
- What Are the Benefits of Exercise on the Skeletal System? (livestrong.com)