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Exercise – Don’t Break the Hearts of Your Loved Ones

Two and a half years ago my dad had a fluke accident in our home, at the age of 87 he fell and broke his leg. Well, my dad is an avid tennis player, gym enthusiast, has a Nordic Track in his bedroom, and takes bike treks with his buddies (the ones 20 years his junior) for hundreds of kms. Even at his age, he had a fabulous recovery, blowing the minds of all health professionals who worked with him. Because he was (and still is at 89) an incredible athlete and remarkably fit, he had a full recovery, Thank God.

When this happened, as can be expected, my mother who is 8 years his junior, freaked out. She has always been, since I have known her, to be a chronic Jewish mother. Being the diligent, brilliant wife, she stood by my dad’s side, panicked with every movement, ache and pain. Let me mention a few minor details.

  • There is a live in housekeeper to help.
  • There are 3 major exercise machines in that house: the Nordic Track, a treadmill and a recumbent bike. There are weights, resistance bands, lots of stairs connecting the 3 levels of the home. Zero excuse not to exercise.

At this time, my mother also had a gym membership to a club 4 km from their home. She and my dad have a bicycle built for 2 that they regularly attracted smiles and coos from all, seeing a couple at their age, riding together. They actually looked like the hottest couple you could imagine.

I encouraged my father to continue to do exercises from his bed, knowing that regardless of his injury – his body was still depending on all that physical activity, and would not respond kindly if he just quit. Mom stood vigil by his bedside… worrying, nagging… as could be expected. I got after her to continue going to the gym – she loved her zumba class and had a few favourite machines. She refused to leave my father at all. He pleaded with her to go and look after herself (I think he also wanted the break!), being without any doubt the most stubborn person that ever walked this planet – she still refused. We all reminded her there are exercise machines in the house, multiple ways to exercise at home. BTW, my mother gets on a home machine, and suddenly 3 minutes converts to 30 minutes in her mind.

That was the beginning of the end, and nobody can convince me otherwise. Her physical activity came to a screeching halt, and since then she has had sporadic, at best, exercise and physical activity.

I begged, pleaded, showed her the studies on exercise against aging body and mind, chronic diseases including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis…. we know the list goes on and on. She would try and convince me she exercised, I knew what she called a workout, I saw it many times. This is why I loved her taking the classes – it kept her going.  I live 500 km from my folks, still, I skyped and spoke about it constantly with her. I got her to the gym when visiting me in Toronto, when I was in Montreal shamed her on to her home machines. My dad was always after her – she always had a pathetic excuse….busy (really ?!?!?), tired (tired because she didn’t exercise), waiting for a phone call, the grocery delivery, “I will exercise tomorrow!” Yes, we all know what that means.

I have always said – there is one bad thing about exercise. That is, if you quit, your body has spiteful, retaliatory measures beyond the most devious, diabolical mind. Whether you have a broken leg, flu, busy schedule, your body does not care. It needs to circulate, refresh, respect and pamper that precious muscle mass. And yes, of course, modifications are necessary for every circumstance and condition. Exercise and physical activity are just as vital as breathing, eating, sleeping and brushing your teeth. Never quit exercising. If your child went missing, you would search with every breath inside. If you are short on time, have an injury, You MAKE the time for physical activity. Not getting to the gym is NO excuse.

“The fitter you are, the harder you fall.”
-Harry Pino, a senior exercise physiologist at the Sports Performance Center at NYU Langone Medical Center

Forgive me, now I start to cry on my keyboard.

My mom had been a diabetic for about 30 years. She is a colon cancer survivor (23 years ago) . She is one of the great stories. Regular exercise, including both strength & cardio respiratory, are vital to diabetes and colon cancer prevention and recovery.

Over the last 2 years, I have watched her fall apart, mentally and physically. It is now happening at a gasping speed. The neurodegeneration is devastating, clearly evident to all eyes.  She cannot climb stairs, her biomechanics are so wonky that her walking is atrocious, destroying joints and causing intense pain. She is popping pain killers now, which my dad controls. She cannot get in and out of a bath, get off the toilet alone, her ability to remember, calculate, function is heart breaking. She was always the Scrabble queen… that has gone with the muscle.

This is not a necessity of “old age”. A gentleman in my gym is in his late 90s and he runs up the stair master and makes us all feel like slack offs. Look at my dad. Sure, many of us know it gets more challenging as we age to keep fit, and the term fit is going to evolve and be defined differently as we age.

We don’t have to go to a gym to exercise. If you have time to breathe, you have time to exercise. If you have time to watch television or a social life, you certainly have time to exercise.

Someone keeps you on the phone? Get up and walk while they blab. You’re a busy mom? The very best gift you can give your child is you.

Ya’ know, my mom used to tell me all the time when my kids were young and I had to earn the living and raise my kids, I was terribly sleep deprived… she always told me “Shira you are no good to anyone dead.”

This is so unnecessary. Again, there is zero doubt in my mind this avalanche started when she quit exercising. I don’t believe in coincidence. My Rabbi once told me “coincidence was God’s way of remaining anonymous.” Maybe the exercise was staving off impending doom, we do not know. But I do know that this was the beginning of all of our heartache. I cry multiple times a day, as I work with people that were stricken by disease, and I watch the magic of exercise. I know I’m being a bit spoiled here – I am in my mid 50s and have my mom, unlike many of my girlfriends. This disintegration of her mind and body was completely unnecessary – dare I say with my own mother – lifestyle induced. Then again, the CDC does tell us 80% of chronic illness could be prevented with appropriate lifestyle choices.

Exercise is truly our BFF in life. If you think, “I tried exercise and it didn’t work,” please think beyond the superficial. Think about muscles, bones, blood, heart, kidneys, liver, DNA, telomeres, cholesterol, immune function, brain, cognitive function, prevention of carcinogenesis, how many medications would be irrelevant with exercise? Even if you don’t know what some of those are.

I believe every miserable situation must have a silver lining that we have to seriously dig to learn. I am writing and publishing this with the hope it can be a silver lining to many people, and give them a massive kick in the …. to exercise regardless of their excuses, or be successful in getting their loved ones to exercise.

Breathe life, exercise faithfully, be loyal to yourself and all those that you love. Exercise is beyond any shadow of a doubt, life’s breath.

I can’t make this stuff up – Check out the science:

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