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’!
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!
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.