My dad used to say, “Getting old isn’t for the faint of heart.” So true. But he was a great example of living life to the fullest physically as long as his body would allow.
When he was well into his 70s, my dad did a funky dive at the Hillsboro Swimming Pool. He would bounce on the diving board two or three times and land on his seat at the end of the board, before bouncing into a hand-stand and diving into the water.
One kid complained to the lifeguard, saying, “That’s illegal.”
The lifeguard was wise beyond his or her years, and said to the child, “Tell you what. When you’re that old, we’ll let you do it too.”
Michael Rogers, a professor of human performance studies and director of the Center for Physical Activity and Aging at Wichita State University, didn’t know my dad, but he would have appreciated how active my dad was as an older adult.
Rogers is a strong proponent of grandparents staying active by engaging their grandchildren in games or physical activity when possible. Of course, not all grandparents will push themselves to the limit physically like my dad, and that’s probably a good thing.
“Moderation is key, both in terms of the amount of activity as well as the amount of time spent with grandchildren,” said Rogers. “Grandparents should avoid doing too much activity to avoid injury. They should consider their previous activity levels, general fitness level, and any conditions that could be aggravated by exercise (heart, respiratory, and metabolic diseases).
“Also, if grandparents spend too much time with grandchildren and they begin to feel stressed and overwhelmed, many of the health benefits of activity are reduced. While it is important for older adults to maintain strong relationships with grandchildren, it is also important that they have time to decompress between visits,” said Rogers.
It’s no secret that as we age, our risk for falling and injury increases substantially. Falls can result in a variety of injuries ranging from contusions to concussions to fractured hips. Therefore, it is very important that grandparents do not engage in activities that could result in falls.
“While any activity can produce a fall, the risk is increased with contact sports or those that require a high level of balance, such as skiing, roller skating, skateboarding,” said Rogers.
Rogers suggests that grandparents make a list of activities they did as a child and ask their grandchildren if they would like to participate. It could be hopscotch, hula-hooping, red-light green-light, hide-and-seek, tag, and other activities.
“Select activities that are enjoyable for both generations. Ideally, try to perform activities that include cardiovascular exercise,” said Rogers.
But how much is enough or too much physical activity?
Rogers said, “Ideally, grandparents should strive to meet minimum levels of recommended physical activity. The CDC recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise or 15 minutes of vigorous exercise on five days a week. Moderate exercise includes brisk walking, doubles tennis, or gentle swimming, while vigorous activity includes hiking, jogging, or running.”
If all this physical activity sounds like an accident waiting to happen, Rogers offers this advice on how to avoid an injury.
“Cold muscles are more prone to injury, so always warm up before engaging in physical activity,” said Rogers. “Do five-to-10 minutes of light aerobic activity such as jumping jacks, cycling, or walking, followed by a few minutes of stretching, to prepare for exercise. After exercise, do some gentle stretching for five-to-10 minutes to help make recovery easier. It’s also important to drink plenty of water during and after exercise.”
For grandparents who are less physically able, there are still options available for interacting with grandchildren. Rogers says grandparents might want to consider helping their grandchildren with model-making, woodworking, knitting, gardening or baking.
“These are relaxing activities which also have the benefit of preserving a skill from one generation to the next,” said Rogers. “In particular, gardening not only provides a physical activity but can also promote lessons in healthy eating that can be just as important as physical activity.”
So enjoy life and your grandchildren while you can. It will create memories for a lifetime.