In it together

In it together

My Mom and I share more than just good genes and the love of our family. We also follow a similar physical activity program to keep us active and engaged within our communities. Let me explain.

Even in her ninetieth year, my Mom incorporates physical activity throughout her everyday routines. She does her own cleaning and laundry, has a small container garden, attends weekly social events and, on a daily basis, she leaves her home and walks to the local grocery store. At the store she is the star attraction because of her naturally friendly demeanor, and in turn, the delightful people who work there look out for her: they are part of her neighbourhood. Mom has recently upgraded to a new walker and her “wheels” keep her ever active. Once a week she even takes the bus to a shopping mall a few kilometers away.

My Mom goes out in the sun, wind, rain and snow… this causes some consternation from the kind people in her building who worry about her, but my Mom persists.

This summer my Mom started exercise classes for the first time. She noticed an advertisement to do a free 10 week physiotherapist-led twice weekly exercise training at a local community centre. But the exercise class was located a 15-minute walk away from where my Mom lived. Despite my problem-solving to get her there on regular basis, my Mom made it quite clear to me that she would make it there on her own and no, she did not need to take a taxi or involve anyone else. We did a practice run, and not only was my Mom able to make it to the centre, but she practically ran… I may be exaggerating but I definitely had to slow her down.

Though I live 6,000 km away, we speak daily and a network of family and friends who see Mom regularly keep me posted. This is how I know that even after just one month of classes, Mom made some noticeable changes. She stands better, she no longer requires the constant use of her walker indoors and occasionally she is able to go outside (with assistance) without her walker. My Mom was able to get up and down off the floor on several occasions, but this was really to spend time playing with her latest great-grandchild. Quite a change in such a short period of time!

So how is this like my program? Well, my Mom and I share many similar activities based on a strong foundation of incorporating physical activity into daily life routines. At my home, we hand wash dishes, garden, swap some TV for reading, and stopped using our car on a daily basis. I either walk or take public transportation (or a combination) to and from work every day. I go to the same coffee place daily. Just like my Mom, I am comforted when I walk in and the staff know me. In addition to my daily walking program I too have my own daily balance program and twice weekly strength training program. Further, while I am at work I make sure that I get up every hour (at least) to make sure that I am breaking up my prolonged sitting time.

Because we share similar physical activity patterns (albeit mine may be a little bit more intense compared with my Mom), I feel like I have an activity partner and someone to talk about how to add more activity into the day. Truth be told, a lot of the ideas that I have tested in research studies of middle-aged and older adults come from my discussions with my Mom and ways that we used to do things. Consequently, in my research lab, we are developing and testing ways for middle-aged and older adults to “re-engineer” activity back into life.

Exercise is still very important and my goals are to support people to meet physical activity guidelines. But we are trying to come up with ways to bridge the gap as people start to become active. For example, we are currently working on our intervention Return to Everyday Activity in the Community and Home (REACH). REACH is designed for people who are not meeting guidelines to reacquaint them with balance and strength exercises and the other types of physical activity, such as activities of daily living and active transportation. Limiting car use, and encouraging active and public transportation supports our health and the environment.

I am very proud of the physical activity that my Mom engages in: she is my inspiration. She reminds me through her choices and actions that I can remain active throughout my life through small incremental activities– she is a model of how to add life to years. Importantly, we are in it together!