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You're Never Too Old

By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.
Victoria in Motion, Fall 2015

In my mid-60s, I considered myself healthy and reasonably fit. I played with and walked my Irish Wolfhounds, kept house, worked in my flower garden, and taught biology and human anatomy and physiology as an adjunct at a nearby college. My life was busy, and I thought my health was good. Then to my surprise, what started as a toothache that needed a root canal led to the diagnosis of a rare form of cancer, Epstein Barr positive large diffuse B cell lymphoma of the elderly. Yes, "of the elderly" is part of the official name. At age 68, I did not consider myself elderly. The diagnosis was followed by chemotherapy sessions that eliminated the cancer. They also really knocked my socks off. My energy levels took a nose dive and left me languishing on the couch or hunched at my computer for way too long.

Everyday tasks like brushing my dogs, running a vacuum, using a broom, pulling weeds, closing a car door, or holding a blow dryer became very difficult. I had very little strength or range of motion. Plus, my sense of balance was so out-of-whack that stooping to pick something up from the floor and staying vertical while taking a shower were challenges. My inactivity had leap-frogged me to elderly! I was concerned. If my activities were that limited at 70 years of age, what would I be capable of doing at age 80?

My lifetime career as a scientist led me to do a bit of research. I found that among those aged 65 years and older, walking and gardening or yard work are, by far, the most popular activities. Unfortunately, many aged 65 and over spend, on average, 10 hours or more each day sitting or lying down, and by age 75, about 1 in 3 men and half of women engage in no physical activity at all! That puts a new spin on the term sedentary. Wow! I was on the path to losing my independence.

I set a goal to get active and discussed my situation with my physician, who sent me to Citizen’s HealthPlex Rehabilitation facility to get started. Upon "graduation" from the Rehab Center, I joined the HealthPlex to take advantage of the exercise classes and to train with Tami Brzozowski, the Fitness Manager. Physical activities like housework or shopping use muscles and burn energy. Physical exercises are planned, structured, repetitive activities with the objective of improving cardio-respiratory endurance, muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility.

Dr. Sue working out with trainer Tami Dr. Sue working out with trainer Tami
(click image to enlarge)

Tami got me exercising. In the beginning, two-pound weights were about the max I could manage, machines were set at ten pounds, and a plank was something I watched others do. Handling five pound weights is now routine, and working on machines set at twenty to forty pounds of weight is quite manageable. Plus, I can do a series of 30-second planks! Exercise and improvement continue.

The best part is that I can now brush my dogs, run a vacuum, use a broom, pull weeds, close a car door, and hold a blow dryer. For the first time in over two years, I can effortlessly tote a thirty-pound bag of dog food. Plus, Tami’s Balance Training Class has improved my stability. Having good balance means being able to control and maintain your body’s position, whether you are moving or remaining still. I can now stoop to retrieve something from the floor with ease and shower without fear of falling.

Sometimes I need a short break, but I can accomplish so many simple chores that were very difficult or impossible just months ago. These improvements may seem like small accomplishments to many, but they are milestones toward maintaining my independence.

If you are not active, I strongly encourage you to get busy. Sit down no matter your age, and you will become old and lose mobility. Activities like gardening or walking the dog will get your body moving. Then make specific exercises such as weight training, tai chi, aerobics or balance classes a part of your routine. Including both activity and exercise in your life will provide health benefits and allow you to improve your strength, range of motion, flexibility, and balance. Keep moving and maintain your independence.

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