A couple of months ago, The New York Times published a story by long-time health reporter, Jane Brody, about the importance of exercise for elders. Considering the amount of information it covers, the story is remarkably short and simple. Even so, it could be boiled down further to these salient points that should be burned in our brains:
Fact: As they age, people lose muscle mass and strength, flexibility and bone.
Fact: The resulting frailty leads to a loss of mobility and independence.
The last two facts may sound discouraging. But they can be countered by another. Regular participation in aerobics, strength training and balance and flexibility exercises can delay and may even prevent a life-limiting loss of physical abilities into one’s 90s and beyond.
Every time we discuss end-of-life issues here at TGB, it is universally agreed that no one wants to wind up unable to care for themselves. We all know the best way to ensure we remain healthy for as long as possible is to eat intelligently AND EXERCISE. But many of us do not.
Although a good exercise regimen should, as Ms. Brody notes, include aerobics and strength training along with something for flexibility and balance, some experts, aware of how negligent many people are about exercise, suggest that five, 30-minute brisk walks a week can go a long way toward staving off infirmity.
How hard is that? 30 minutes a day. Some fresh air. Time for mental stillness. And doing yourself a big health favor. Still, it doesn’t get done. At least, not in my house.
For several months, when I first moved to Portland, Maine, I walked for an hour every morning, seven days a week. I was new to the neighborhood, there was much to see and learn about the area, and I looked forward to it – for awhile, until it wasn’t so new anymore. You know how it goes: “Oh, I’ll skip today. Six days in a week would be okay.”
Then it's five, four and soon enough winter is here and I might slip on the ice or snow. Never mind that I see people on daily walks down the middle of the street (not many cars in this town) where the snow is worn away.
About a year ago, Claude Covo-Farchi started a blog, ElderExercise, as a support group for elders to encourage one another in keeping up their exercise routines. I was invited, but didn’t join. I knew from past experience that I would not maintain it – with or without encouragement – and didn’t want to feel more guilt than I already do.
I did attend twice-weekly t’ai chi classes for a year and actually learned enough to practice it at home. Still do, now and then, but not often enough. I’ve joined gyms about half a dozen times throughout my life only to let it drift after a month or two. I despise those machines, the blaring music and the general ambience of a lot of buff 20-somethings using the place as a singles bar.
But that’s just another excuse, like deliberately getting involved with a book or magazine or playing with the cat on my way to picking up those cute pink barbells in the bedroom.
So I tell myself to get back to walking every day as I did during the first months after I moved here. Set a time every day and work the rest of my schedule around it; that would be a start. But I have all kinds of excuses not to walk, let alone do anything more vigorous than push the vacuum cleaner around once a week:
- Oh, the sky is getting dark, it might rain while I’m out. Better stay home.
- I haven’t written a post for tomorrow. No time to walk.
- I should cook that chicken before it rots. Can’t go out while the oven’s on.
- So much email, so little time. Better get to it.
- It’s 82 degrees today. Too hot to walk.
- I really should take care of that bank business. Too far to walk, I’ll have to drive.
- Oops, late dinner appointment tonight. Better have a nap instead.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. The depth of the stupidity of my excuses is beyond measurement. Oh, how I miss New York City where walking is integrated into everyday activities. You can do five miles there without noticing it. However, that is not my reality now and lamenting it is nothing more than another stupid excuse.
According to Miriam E. Nelson, who is director of the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Tufts University in Boston,
“…with every increasing decade of age, people become less and less active.
“But,” Dr. Nelson said, “the evidence shows that with every increasing decade, exercise becomes more important in terms of quality of life, independence and having a full life.”
- The New York Times, 24 June 2008
So the question today is, for those who are as lazy as I am, what is your
best dumbest excuse for not exercising? Maybe we can shame ourselves into getting off our butts.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Pat Temiz, an ex-pat in Turkey, explains how it came to be that where she lives there is No Such Thing as a Homeless Chicken.]