This week I am visiting my parents in Missouri. Fellow runners will know that the beauty of running is that it truly requires only a pair of shoes. I make an effort to run outdoors whenever possible and one of the things I enjoy about traveling is ending up in new settings where people exercise. Yesterday I ran in a beautiful park where it was heartening to see so many older adults getting out in the morning for a brisk walk or a run. I took six turns around the park and watched as people of all ages came onto the path to begin their day with a quickened pulse and a dose of oxygen. There was one man I passed a couple of times who would occasionally interrupt his walk, drop to the ground and knock out a few push-ups. I guessed his age to be about 70. There was sixty-ish woman who still sported spandex and probably clocked a respectable 10- minute mile. Another man in his late 50s alternated his forward walking with backward walking, a nice trick to improve balance and surprise the muscles if you can do it without bumping into anyone. Many were accompanied by friends and dogs and by the time I left it was almost lunchtime and the park was full.
A few days ago, the Times published an article on exercise and aging that reveals powerful proof that these older adults are not only improving their general health and their mind-body connection but that they are also keeping the very fiber of their being younger than their sedentary contemporaries. A number of studies now show that regular exercise actually slows (and even halts) the breakdown of muscle tissue that was once thought to inevitably come with aging. In older people who didn’t exercise, muscle not only began to disappear but was also infiltrated with fat deposits, leading to a loss of strength and increased injury potential that becomes part of the vicious cycle of growing old and becoming frail. Sadly, this also leads to a loss of independence.
My father, who is now 76 years old and has had a recent hip replacement, stood in the kitchen yesterday and told me that he is working back up to doing 100 “sink push-ups.” These are the kind of push-ups you do leaning against a sink, table or counter top rather than on the floor. 100 is a great goal and I think that modifying any exercise so that goals can be reached is a great motivator. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Sydney Smith: “It is the greatest of mistakes to do nothing because you can only do a little. Do what you can.”
TRY THIS WEEK: Do what you can!