Love mom? Make her exercise!

I understand that your mom is old. She is probably frail or fat and possibly has diabetes and/or high blood pressure and/or cholesterol issues. But chill out for a minute. I’m not talking about making your mom doing dumbbell complexes or training for a triathlon (though there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!). I’m talking about staying active by including some cardiovascular exercise and resistance training as a part of their lives.

And yes, I understand that the last thing you ever want to see is your mom slapping chalk on her hands and ripping that loaded barbell off the floor! But resistance training is not just that. Resistance training is any training in which you exert force against a given resistance. This resistance could be a dumbbell or stone or a bag of potatoes or a barbell or a machine or…. your own bodyweight. I’ve said this multiple times and I’ll say it again… most people need nothing more than bodyweight training to reach significant levels of fitness. And your mom, with no real aesthetic or performance goals, will be well served with the same!

S0 before I go ahead and make a bunch of recommendations, let’s define the mom we’re talking about here.


  • is about 55 yrs of age
  • is about 5ft 2 inches
  • weighs about 70 kg/155 lb
  • has one or more of the following – diabetes, high BP, insulin resistance, chronic joint aches, chronic headache, respiratory issues, a big ‘ol tummy
  • can walk but can’t run
  • can manage to walk up stairs but can only barely manage it

We’ll call her ‘our mom‘.

Should ‘our mom’ exercise?

Yeah! Hells yeah!

But first, let’s make this clear – We don’t want to find ‘our mom’ in some fancy equipment rental space a.k.a gym walking on a treadmill (or rocking that elliptical) watching a cooking show. We want her to lead an active life. So, let’s rename exercise to activity.

The thing is, women, traditionally, have been extremely active throughout their lives. Even when men lazed around, they ‘gathered’ (as hunter-gatherers), cooked (detailed meals with minimal unsophisticated equipment), cleaned (for multiple hours a day), lifted heavy objects (fire wood, water etc.) and lugged around wiggly weights (a.k.a babies) a lot! Sure, women do all this now too – just that gathering now means picking up donuts from the bakery, cooking is basically turning on the microwave, cleaning translates to dumping clothes into the washing machine and transporting now is more like ordering online.

So slowly but steadily women have become super sedentary and hence have lost all the benefits of the strenuous daily activities that used to be an obvious part of their lives. This has resulted in creating… ‘our mom’!

The Why

Well, we all know that staying active has a million benefits, but I’ll just list the top ten benefits that someone like ‘our mom’ can reap out of staying active.

  • healthier joints (resulting in possible elimination of joint aches)
  • healthier bones (resulting in improving or preventing osteoporosis)
  • better endurance (resulting in doing daily activities with ease)
  • maintenance of lean tissue and loss of fat tissue
  • improved heart health resulting is lesser risk of cardiac events
  • enhanced mobility and range of motion
  • increased strength
  • better respiratory control and circulation
  • better lipid profile
  • better sleep and hence stress reduction

I can go on and on but you get the idea – Irrespective of age and current physical condition, an active lifestyle will help. As a matter of fact, the older/weaker the person is and more health issues he/she has, the more important it is to stay active!

The How

Realize that voluntary activity is foreign to ‘our mom’. Though she possibly spent the major part of her teens and early adulthood being active, I’m pretty sure she didn’t enroll in an exercise program of any kind (and definitely did no obsess about what she ate). With that in mind, I have the following rules when it comes to introducing anyone like ‘our mom’ to exercise or voluntary activity.

The activities that you are trying to get her to do…

  • should not be weird or embarrassing in anyway.
  • needs to contain elements that are familiar.
  • should be super low intensity with a very gradual ramp up.
  • should produce minimal to no muscle soreness.
  • should not aggravate any existing physical conditions (lower back pain, knee pain etc.)
  • should take up no more than 40 min per day.
  • should show obvious results (wrt look, feel and function) within a few weeks.

So keeping all this in mind, what are some activities ‘our mom’ can do to stay healthy?

Ya know how when you were a lil kid your mom mixed your medicine with honey and fooled you into eating it? (Thassraight… you were dumb!) She did this because she wanted to ensure that you don’t spit out the very bitter (but beneficial) medicine.  Same deal here. You need to mix in some (painful) exercise with some other fun activity so she doesn’t reject it.

1. Make her walk

I know this is lame and boring, but walking has more health benefits than most exercises. An activity needn’t be badass or hardcore or fancy for it to be effective. As a matter of fact, the opposite is almost always true. Walk, in addition to being extremely safe and having obvious cardiovascular benefits, stimulates the nervous system and sets the stage for good blood circulation throughout the day, revs up metabolism, curbs appetite and gives the spine a much needed break from all the sitting. Also, walking outside instead of inside some pretentious fancy looking dungeon a.k.a gym will provide her with a good chunk of Vit D and some fresh air to go with it!

And the best part about walking – no mom will ever say no when asked to go for a walk with her son or daughter!

Honestly, for someone like ‘our mom’, a 30-45 min brisk walk 2-3 days a week is all the cardiovascular exercise that is required to to reduce blood pressure, stress levels and maintain overall good health.

2. Introduce her to yoga

Any legit yoga class will have elements of resistance training, core work, mobility and respiratory control. Going for a good yoga class (or having a personal yoga instructor) once a week is a good start. Add in an extra class after a couple of weeks and help her increase capacity up to 3-4 short classes a week. If this is not an option, start off with sun salutations. Just plain sun salutations. Have her do about 4-5 reps per side. Slowly increase the number of reps until shes ready for a more traditional yoga class.

3. Help her get stronger

Basic moves such as the squat, lunge, plank, pushup etc. strengthen multiple muscles, help with coordination and proprioception and have functional relevance in everyday life. The key here is to not make it an ‘exercise program’. You need to keep things easy and simple. Have her do some basic squats and twists focusing on depth and range of motion more than rep count or speed or intensity. Build up her strength slowly so shes able to perform a few without feeling like she was kissed by King Kong. Once shes at that level, tether some of these moves together and have her perform them one after the other in a clean fashion.

4. Take a stand

It isn’t just the desk job workers that sitting kills. It kills ‘our mom’ too. Since household chores have become so much more easy and less time consuming than they used to be, most times ‘our mom’ ends up sitting. And the one solution to that – stand. Tell her why sitting is unhealthy and encourage her to take short standing/walking breaks multiple times a day.

5. Scam her!

If none of these structured approaches click, resort to the same medicine-in-honey idea and work up a scam! In this case, medicine = activity and honey = spending time with you! Go for a walk with her. Suggest that you guys walk to the grocery store instead of driving. Take the stairs with her instead of the elevator. Park a little further away on purpose. Say you want to help clean the house. Do whatever it takes to get her to move!

If it isn’t clear yet, I’m saying ‘our mom’ should get off her bottom and be active! I know this sounds mean and rude and all that jazz but that is only because we live in a world where watching TV and eating sugary junk is considered ‘ideal’ and having to do work is a call for ‘awwww!’. Seriously, wake up!

And here is your reality check and take home message…

If you truly care about your mom, stop doing stupid things like buying her chocolates and sweets for any and every occasion, and do whatever it takes to get her to eat real food, stay active and live a healthy life!

She did all she could to keep you healthy… its your turn now!

And yea… for what it is worth – Happy Mothers Day.

28 responses to “Love mom? Make her exercise!

  1. Ranjani May 10, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    Awesome post! It’s about time “our mom” gets fit!

  2. Divya May 10, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    Lovely post! Everyone in my family calls me ”maamiyaar of MRC Nagar” because I don’t let my folks eat cake/stuff from Grand Sweets/ice cream/milk chocolate. So this Mother’s Day(also happened to be my mum’s birthday), I took them out for ice cream after dinner as a little ‘thank you for having eaten clean for so long’! So anyone who says ”I can’t help regulate my parents’ food preferences” just isn’t trying hard enough.

  3. Divya May 10, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    What a great thought! My mother discovered yoga a few years back and thank god for that. She is hooked and has transcended into her late fifties with ease! good ideas here, I must get my MIL to do however!

    • RG May 11, 2011 at 10:26 am

      Same deal with my mom. She loves her yoga… but shes started walking only recently and shes seeing some great benefits.

      Pull the m-i-l in too!

  4. Victoria May 11, 2011 at 10:48 am

    My Mum loves her Yoga and Pilates, but I have devious plans to get her to the gym for a bit of squatting and deadlifting… it’ll do her good! She’s always been active and healthy, but the years are catching up with her and I definitely think a bit of strength training will do her good!

    And like Divya above, I’ve definitely had an impact on my folks’ diet… their freezer is stocked with grass fed beef and their fridge is full of local eggs (Oh, and coconut oil and animal fats are now the cooking fats of choice!)!

    • RG May 12, 2011 at 3:37 pm

      Awesome stuff! Gotto love a woman who squats deadlifts and filler the freezer with grassfed beef! Respect!

  5. Anitha May 11, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    Good post! My mom walks regularly, gives me umpteen reasons for not being able to join a Yoga class. I have made her stop taking statins (she does not have a cholesterol issue, but apparently in India for diabetics, they prescribe statins as a standard routine), still very tough to sell her the diet changes.

    • RG May 12, 2011 at 3:37 pm

      Wait whaaaaa?? Statins for diabetes? Are you sure?

      • Anitha May 13, 2011 at 7:34 am

        Oh, yes. My mom isn’t even overweight, her BMI is 22.1. Even here in the US, for people with even borderline cholesterol issues but are diabetic, statins are prescribed as a norm.

      • RG May 23, 2011 at 8:52 pm

        Wow! I definitely need to look into this one.

  6. NA May 11, 2011 at 8:36 pm

    I sent my mom (in India) a Leslie Sansone walking dvd and she is HOOKED to it. She has all friends walking with Leslie now…lol!
    But her diet…..aye, aye, aye. She has severely limited her fat and meat intake. She only eats fat when she is out and as for meat, only chicken qualifies as good meat. Red meat is totally out….sigh. I made sure she took a bottle of organic evoo back with her to India…she uses it now in her sprout salads. But I wish she’d loosen up about meat, especially since my dad craves it sooo much. I’m thinking of sneaking in some organic butter/milk/buttermilk into their diet when they visit….and maybe make meat so often that they’re forced to eat some…lol.
    My mom has always been wary of potatoes. When I was a kid, she’d put all her potato pieces in my plate….while she’d be fine with the copious amounts of rice and roti.

    • RG May 12, 2011 at 3:39 pm

      Hmmm typical indian diet… plus the curse of the lipid hypothesis… plus the low fat scam!

      I’m glad shes hooked to walking… but changes to her diet will do wonders for her health and fat loss efforts (if any) with almost instantaneous results.

  7. Rahul May 13, 2011 at 5:52 am

    Nice post Raj. Its really difficult to get our mothers to exercise. I have found walking to be an acceptable option of exercise amongst most mothers. You are spot on when you say the exercises “should not be weird or embarrassing in anyway”. Infact, my mom was initially embarrassed to even wear shoes with sari and go for a walk.

    • RG May 23, 2011 at 8:52 pm

      Oh I relate to this too well! I’m planning on making some big changes once I move back to India! Will keep you posted.

  8. Mahesh May 13, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    Good to see a post exactly a day after I spoke to you about the same issue. This summer, my goal is to make my mother more healthier by making sure she eats quality food, staying active and most importantly get more rest. I figured out that she needs more rest and quality sleep that she missed all these years. Now having introduced to a quality diet with lots of veggies and good fat, she doesnt miss having grain based diet anymore.

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  10. NA May 21, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    Hi Raj,
    I have a quick question for you. I just made some paneer(chenna) and I have all this leftover whey(?). What should I do with it? Throw it or keep it to put in soups and stuff? Is there any nutritional value in it?

  11. na May 23, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    Hi Raj, I have another question for you. Is grapeseed oil good for cooking or not?

    • na May 23, 2011 at 3:04 pm

      so never mind my previous question….I looked at the fat analysis of grape see oil and realized that it is mostly pufa….which is unstable. BUT here’s my conundrum…a lot of the saturated fat oils have very low smoke points. If I’m using coconut oil for “baghar’ or ‘tadka’, the oil starts smoking almost immediately. isn’t that also supposed to be harmful to us since once the smoke point occurs, it means the oil has broken down….so some sort of chemical reaction has taken place and there are free radicals in it now. It is all so confusing!

      • RG May 23, 2011 at 9:01 pm

        Well deep frying in general isnt too healthy. So cooking on a low-medium flame is a good rule of thumb. Honestly, high temp cooking is done too frequently these days (in an effort to save time maybe?), but cooking on a low-medium flame is both tasty and healthy.

  12. na May 23, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    I’m not talking about deep frying. Baghar is seasoned oil that is poured on Indian salan at the end…..and you need high heat to get the mustard seeds to pop. Also, if I’m cooking steaks, I sear them at high heat. Without the high heat, they don’t brown and look absolutely unappetizing…..same goes for onions. At low heat, they don’t caramelize.
    I guess I’ll try to cook Indian less often

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