Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

It’s never too late to start moving- some examples from successfully aging parents

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Mom, Dad with us in Florida

Have you ever thought “I’ve never exercised regularly, , so what difference would it make if I started now?” A study reported in the New York Times this week debunked this idea- one of the conclusions is that exercise has a beneficial effect no matter when you get started.

This study compared people who had been exercising for years against those who began exercising in middle age or later, and saw a seven-fold reduction in the chances of becoming infirm in old age.

“Successful aging involves minimal debility past the age of 65 or so, with little or no serious chronic disease, depression, cognitive decline or physical infirmities that would prevent someone from living independently.”  This is great news for those who thought they’d missed their chance or would derive minimal benefit from a late start to regular exercise. According to the study, people are considered “active”, with as little as one hour a week of walking, gardening, cleaning or other physical pursuits.      However, numerous studies show that consistency ( 5-6 days a week) , duration (at least half an hour on most days) and intensity (bringing heart rate up to a target range)  multiply the benefits to health and wellbeing. Check out this website for more details.

Successful aging personifies my parents, G-d love ’em ! Ceil and Eli Cohen are both 83 years old, and  happily reside in Deerfield Beach, Florida from November to April. My father played football in high school, but my mother, while never an athlete, loves being busy. They are probably more active now than they were in earlier years. They both have “ants in their pants” a trait that I’m often accused of, gladly accept and know that I come by honestly. Mom and Dad’s day starts by going to the pool every morning for their water aerobics. They  sometimes complain of cool weather, but it never deters them from their swimming.  He plays golf and bowls twice a week, while mom goes to yoga.  She does not give in to the urge to do chair yoga, although getting up and down from the floor is not as easy as it was once was. They ride their bikes when it’s not too breezy, as their knees hurt when the wind provides too much resistance. Although neither ever belonged to a gym, they always walked, worked on renovation projects themselves, keep their minds active with writing courses, and going to many cultural events. They are the “designated drivers” of their crowd at night, because no one else wants to drive in the dark (not because they hang around with a heavy drinking crowd, although maybe they are hiding something!) They have deliberately started to make friends who are 10-15 years younger than they are, since they’re tired of hearing what they call the “organ recital”  (complaints about creaky body parts) from folks their own age. They have upbeat and sunny attitudes, and can laugh at themselves when they do stupid things. There was the morning that my mother couldn’t find the jeans that she knew she put down on her chair minutes before. They were well on their way to their appointment when she noticed that my father had mistakenly put them on.   They got to the office and were still laughing hysterically in the waiting room.  When the secretary asked them what was so funny, my mother replied, “My husband is in my pants!” The secretary cracked up and said, “So get a room!”

So what are some of the lessons I take away from the way my parents live?

1. Stay active- you don’t have to be an elite athlete, or even a regular gym-goer to accomplish this goal, but you do have to avoid long periods of sitting and find a way to move that’s enjoyable.

2.  Stay engaged with people, events, and interests, keeping your mind challenged.

3.  Laugh at yourself, and don’t allow the small annoyances of life to affect your mood for any extended length of time.

4.  Cultivate an attitude of gratitude for all the blessings life has given you.

5.  Eradicate any excuses to not be active and enjoy each day.

The list of reasons NOT to exercise is certainly shrinking, while the reasons TO be active and exercise are growing by leaps and bounds (pun intended). What are you doing to leap and bound?

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