Opps, the chair slid and in an instant, Grandpa Jack was wedged on the floor next to the lime-green love seat. Grandpa Jack hurt his back and was not getting up. For the past fifty years, he has worked out almost two hours a day: lifting weights, riding a “real” bike, and later, a stationary bike, or swimming. He has meaty thighs and a firm grip. But a neurological condition has diminished his balance and coordinated use of his legs.
That was four weeks ago. Since that time, Grandpa Jack’s feet have not touched grass, nor has he felt the warmth of the afternoon sun on his face. He walks with “his machine,” his walker, which has two tennis balls smashed on the front legs as stoppers. He needs a gait belt around his waist, and a guardian for a lap around the ward. He waves and talks to everyone he passes.
At the turn of the century only 4% of the population was older than 65. By 2025, it is projected that 20% of the population will be over 65. As we become less young, there are some definitive physiological changes, which occur. Some of these changes we can retard or delay with positive lifestyle and exercise choices. Others are unavoidable on the yellow brick road we all must walk in our time.
Reaction time, muscular strength, bone mass, and flexibility all decrease with age. But these are in the category that we can affect with regular exercise. In Grandpa Jack’s case, the Doctors say that he has the physiology of a 60 year old. (Incidentally, there is a web site called realage.com, where you answer a series of health questions, and the site will estimate your physiologic real age. Check it out.)
Recovery time after exercise, distribution of body fat (it migrates to our center as we age), and healing time are more difficult to have control over. As we become older, many people choose consciously, or unconsciously, to eliminate or decrease physical activity from their lives. Because they choose to do less, tasks of daily life become harder. This creates a vicious cycle of inactivity and inability. For inactive folks the world shrinks.
Weight training is one smart way to stop the downward spiral. Weight training can lower the risk of osteoporitic bone fracture, and increase the amount of force a muscle can generate. With regular strength training the heart has to work less hard for the same life activity; i.e. heart rate and blood pressure is less while going up a flight of stairs when you are in shape.
At the risk of sounding cliché, I want to remind Tahoe Mountain News readers, that the gift of movement is one of life’s most precious experiences. Postpone your time to walk this road as best as you can by living a healthy lifestyle. Take a moment to enjoy this day. Breathe in and out and feel your ribs contract and expand as you enjoy the breath. Bend and straighten your knees and appreciate a working hinge joint. Scratch your back and be happy that you can reach the itch. For now, do not think about the marathon you are training for, or the Death Ride in July. Tonight think just about the simple acts of movement, which get you through your day frame by frame.
When he first fell, Grandpa was treated at the emergency room and then he was transferred to an acute care hospital. Next stop was a skilled nursing facility. Finally, his train landed in a long-term care facility, or a “rest home.” At 89, Grandpa, and most of the other residents, wants more life and less rest
Grandpa was lucky. He has endured a lot of pain from the multiple compression fractures in his spine he sustained as a result of his fall. But it could have been much worse if he was not as strong. I dedicate my morning run for you Grandpa, and for all those who today, cannot run.