Move and Improve

When visiting elderly parents, fitness is a relative thing

Posted March 10, 2011, at 10:12 a.m.
Last modified March 14, 2011, at 10:19 p.m.
Advancing age may call for adaptations in physical activity. A sturdy walker can help seniors maintain their balance and posture while promoting walking as a healthful exercise.
Associated Press photo
Advancing age may call for adaptations in physical activity. A sturdy walker can help seniors maintain their balance and posture while promoting walking as a healthful exercise.
Eric Zelz

I am in Indianapolis visiting my mother in the senior village community where she has just moved from a cottage to an apartment.  She recently turned 89 and this trip I am paying more attention to the differences between our fitness styles now that I am also a “senior.”

This place is amazing, like a cross between a dorm and a hotel.  First of all,  it’s very quiet except for the whirring of wheels of the very substantial and functional walkers that everyone uses.  My mother tells me that the stroller allows her to have better posture and move faster without the danger of falling.  Most everyone here is wearing running shoes for their strolls.

Men and women alike scoot along pushing strollers with baskets full of their needs for any given moment; Kleenex, bags, change purse, umbrella. These even have a seat on top of the basket, so that if you become tired, just take a break, set the parking brake and sit. It’s hard to imagine needing one of these, but I will keep an open mind.

The distance around one whole floor is perhaps a tenth of a mile, so many can get their aerobics zooming around their own apartment floor.  It’s so tempting for me to run these floors, but running inside is not allowed.  I have, however, been running up and down the stairs. There is no one using the stairs here.

The residents in this senior village take exercise seriously. There are outdoor weight and aerobic machines around the half mile circle.  There is the very safe 15 mph speed zone road that goes in a half- mile circle around the village on which they can walk or run.  On nice days there are lots of people using the road and the machines because this village allows anyone to take advantage of the equipment outside.

In the lowest floor of the main building is an exercise facility that includes an underwater treadmill.  I watched my mother jogging on the treadmill and working up as much a sweat as I do running on the road outdoors.  At the same time another woman was working out in the pool with floating weights.  I am not aware of exercise options like this in our area, but developers should take note.

The whole 80-some-year-old pace is much slower than mine, so I have had to reserve my bursts for errands. In the time it takes for my mother to remember her keys, fire up the stroller, summon the elevator and make it to the mail room, I have been up and down the stairs three times.

When I was helping them last year when my dad was really sick, I would go outdoors at 5:00 am every morning and run the half mile loop about 15 times. It was the only way I could feel like myself and be able to cope with the stresses of caregiving.  It also helped me adapt to the slower pace of my parents home.  Then when they would take naps, off I would go to do the errands. Once when a trip to an unfamiliar Wal-Mart had me wanting a nap, I became really worried about having adapted too well.

Overall, it’s been like a week at a spa. I’ve had good, healthy, low-fat meals, safe running on the village road and a great visit with my mother.

Noelle Merrill is the executive director of the Eastern Area Agency on Aging in Bangor.

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