Comfy in an oversized bean bag chair in my grandchildren’s living room, I was delaying the dreaded good-byes. It was time to leave to catch my flight home.
“Can you get out of there?” joked a relative who is about my age.
“I don’t know,” I answered truthfully.
Following an awkward maneuver that included my knees and the sturdy arm of a nearby sofa, I was on my feet hugging and kissing the kids.
A few hours earlier, over tea in her kitchen, I had been discussing with my aunt these trips that I have been making at least quarterly since moving from Pennsylvania to Florida 17 years ago. I believe I’ll be able to do this for quite a few more years, I told her, grateful for my good health.
But how many more, I wonder, realistically.
Christmas trips, like this one, particularly take their tolls—lugging a larger-than-usual carry-on stuffed with gifts, fretting about snow and ice, hampered by heavy coats, sweaters and gloves. As I age, how many more years can I drag baggage through airports, drive a rental car over the Frederick mountains, keep up with the toddlers and teens?
Cuddling my brand new grandson this Christmas reminded me that I am the oldest person in my immediate family. What a sobering and scary realization! Yet I’m thankful to still be alive, even if each day seems to bring a new ache and steal some strength.
Meeting a sweet grandchild is a true reward of getting older.
How old are you, really?
Five years ago, when my granddaughter was 10 and I was 61, I asked her to do a balance test with me. I had read that balance is a true gauge of one’s actual physical age. She giggled as I tottered and teetered while she stood effortless on one foot the whole time.
This week at Jazzercise I thought about that day as I swayed and cheated while trying not to topple during the one-foot routines. When the instructor announced that we would not be doing mat exercises, the woman next to me expressed relief, sharing that it’s a struggle to get back up. Whew! Relieved to know it’s not just me!
Balance and strength came up in a talk with a dear high school friend recently. She said it takes her four tries to get out of the canvas folding chair she takes to her grandchildren’s sporting events Whoa! HER, too? I smiled, a tad smugly, recalling how she totally left me in her dust in any physical activity in our teens. During President Kennedy’s physical fitness tests in gym class, she pitched the ball far beyond the end of the measuring tape. I barely got it to the starting point. And the bar hang! She hung on that wall until the bell rang. My arms collapsed within seconds. Now she can’t pop right up, either!
Truth is, all seniors are fair game for worsening proprioception, particularly those who do not do regular strength-building, balancing and other exercises. That big word means the unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation arising from stimuli within the body itself.
In a story published in The Washington Post last June, Lenny Bernstein wrote, “Your ability to stay upright and move through space is determined by a complex combination of muscle strength, visual inputs, the inner ear and the work of your proprioceptive system—specialized receptors in the nerves of your joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons that orient you in relation to other objects. But aging dulls those senses.”
Bernstein’s story quoted a specialist in orthopedic surgery who cautioned seniors that the more active they are, the more they can slow the aging process.
Although we tend to make fun of our clumsiness, the decline is dangerous. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of three people age 65 and older falls each year, and falls are the top cause of injury death among that population.
If not the actual cause, balance certainly played a role in my bad fall into a stone pillar last summer that terrified my two oldest grandkids and left me with staples in my head, painful whiplash and immense gratitude that it was not worse.
Wanting to be around for the milestones in my grandchildren’s lives is a huge motivator to take care of myself. I think about that on days that I don’t feel like going to exercise class, or walking in my neighborhood, or passing on the French fries. Despite our efforts, the aging process can be relentless.
Sneaky how that happens … how we see our parents in the mirror while we still feel so young.