May 27, 2007

Old Ladies Walking Up Steep Hills

It's a lazy long weekend and Crabby doesn't feel like doing much research. So she'll direct you over to Talia's blog for yet another cool study highlighting the benefits of exercise. This time, it's about senior citizens, and the study basically says: do some strength training, and you'll be a teenager again.

(Okay, no it doesn't. But close. Go check it out if you're not afraid of mitochondria).

As it happens, Crabby has "Old Age" and "Elderly People" on her mind these days--she's temporarily staying at a retirement community, along with her Most Significant Other. Most Significant Other's mother is recovering from back surgery, and for the last week or so, Crabby has been specializing in getting in the way and eating up all the food, but trying, in spirit, to help. (The patient is getting better, but surgery sucks when you're 82).

When she's not getting in the way, Crabby goes wandering around her temporary home and observes the flora and fauna and local residents. The place is very pleasant. It's huge, for one, with thousands of houses and condos spread out over vast acreage in a serene hilly area--there are deer and coyote and wild turkeys and this week even goats, chomping away at the fire-prone grassy hillsides.

And there are quite a few old people. Crabby knows you're not supposed to say "old," anymore, you're supposed to say "senior" or "elder" or something more respectfully euphemistic. But old seems a perfectly good descriptive word if you don't mean anything disparaging by it.

Some of these old people have taken good care of themselves, and some have not. There is a meaningful but not perfect correlation between these efforts and the end result. Significant Other's Mom, for example, was an avid exerciser all her life--but nonetheless has a crumbling spine and crippling arthritis.

But many of these old people, some of them ancient-looking, go out walking, or more rarely, even jogging, through the streets of this community. Some of the hills are really really steep. There is something so inspiring about seeing some fairly ancient looking residents, mostly women for some reason, making their way up these steep hills. Some cruise along easily; other doggedly put one foot in front of the other, tottering a bit or leaning on a cane. But the sight of these ladies getting out for some very tough exercise every day gives Crabby a reason to do it too.

Exercise is hard sometimes, but so is old age. If exercise can make old age any easier, then Crabby will just have to put aside her whining, put on her tennies, and get out the door to race these ladies up the hill. She won't even feel too badly about it when they win.


  1. I sometimes wonder if the old Chinese ladies in San Francisco, where I live, add some extra time to their days on earth by walking up the steep hillside on which Chinatown is located. Some of them look very old, but they make their way steadily, whereas even my much younger out-of-town friends wheeze and complain and stop to rest. I've taken a lesson from the old ladies of Chinatown and try to walk up Nob Hill from the bottom every weekday during my lunch break. It's certainly built up my stamina.

    Crabby mentions "old" vs. "senior." I agree -- let's call things what they are. Euphemisms, such as "pass away" instead of "die," suggest a reluctance to engage with reality. Old is old, nothing wrong with it except that none of us likes what comes afterward. The word "senior" isn't just a euphemism, though; it arose to encourage respect for the old, an attitude that has been sorely lacking in youth-obsessed American culture, and it therefore involves something more than refusing to face reality. But old is not a dirty word. Neither is "shit"; its contemporary alternative, "poop," seems infantile, more squeamish than polite. Are we in kindergarten? No. We are all advancing to the status of being seniors. Let's act, and speak, like it.

  2. Walking was one of the keys to may weight loss. Good blog cranky.

  3. What a wonderful thing to read. I'm so glad those old people are only old chronologically.
    Exercise is good and good for you. So's the fresh air.
    I agree completely re: old. The word is fine. It's the accompanying tone that can make it seem like an insult.
    I intend to spend my... ahem ... "golden years" giving the figurative finger to old age.

    I hope your Most Significant Other's mom gets well quickly.

  4. Too true, motivation is good, wherever you can find it.

  5. Hi appleton,
    Yes, I do believe those old Chinese ladies could teach us a thing or two about lifelong fitness.

    And you're right--nothing wrong with senior. Euphemisms are fine for variety. (I cringed, for example, reading over my post and seeing two "ancients" too close together. Writers need synonyms.) But it's the feeling that we can't ever use certain words like old or fat or die or shit or whatever that seems kind of silly.

    Thanks Captain! Nice to see you this morning.

    Hi Leah--gosh, which finger would that be? (It cracks me up when the gesture gets censored on tv, as though the mere sight of fingers could injure viewer's delicate sensibilities.) And thanks for the good wishes re: MSO's mom!

    Hi Running With Cass. Welcome!
    (I almost made a terrible mistake, at first reading runningwithcass as "running witch ass," which would not have been a nice way to address you at all.)

    And yes, motivation can be hard to find some days, and you gotta take it where you find it. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  6. Coyote, wild turkeys, goats - it sounds a wonderful place to be. Much better than some of these retirement villages.

    Have you noticed how often when one person blogs about a subject, at the very same time someone else is too? Happens all the time. It's a "hundreth monkey" thing, I think - not that I'm saying we bloggers are monkeys although if we are I choose to be a Snow monkey!

  7. Here's a case study for you.

    Yesterday, Dan and I went to visit his great-aunt, who was born in 1932. She's slender, quick-minded and agile. She took us to the cemetery and pointed out all the family graves for Dan, and I was amazed to watch her walking the narrow concrete borders of the plots as if they were balance beams and she a nimble 13 year old gymnast. She has worked all her life, walked all over her town her whole life (never learned to drive) and she is an avid gardener (good weight-bearing exercise, oddly enough).

    Compare to Dan's mother, born a year earlier, 1931. She has severe osteoporosis, had to have a vertebra fused last year when it cracked as a result of her malady, and she's got knee problems and now needs a walker to get anywhere. She has never exercised in any way, shape or form, and she has a poor diet.

    Who do I want to be like? Oh, no question about it! And the funny bit is that Dan's great-aunt wasn't a marathoner or weight-lifter. She didn't do hard core exercise. She just moved and did things all the time. That's what it takes-- be active.

  8. Hee! Great post, Crabby, and you made me think of my dear grandmother, who passed away two years ago at the age of 100. Yup, you read right: she lived to be 100 years old. And she was like some of the old ladies you mentioned in your post: she took walks every day up through her 90s, and she mowed her own lawn regularly until she was well into her 80s. Let's just say I hope I have her genes!

    A funny story about my grandma: on her 99th birthday, a younger friend took her shopping. Her friend found a dress she thought Gram would look great in. Gram's reaction: "No way. That looks like something an old lady would wear." :-D

  9. Great post and great motivation, Crabby. What a reality check!

    I saw some pictures of myself from a few years ago when I thought I was "FAT". Now I have gained about 40 pounds and I am wondering what I am doing to myself.

    I blew out my knee about two weeks ago, so I am not getting around very well. Well this morning I forced myself to do some sit ups before I got out of bed. Every little bit helps! Gotta start somewhere and all that.

    Thanks for the encouragement!

  10. Dawn,
    Damn, snow monkeys are cute aren't they? I don't have anything remotely funny or insightful or even coherent to say at the moment, so I'll have to promise to make it up to you next time I stop by your place for donuts. (Dawn's blog has the very best snacks).

    Welcome back, bunnygirl!
    What a great case study comparison. I really think that staying active makes a huge difference. (Though some people just get screwed with bad genes). Having followed your vacation activities, I have no doubt which kind of old lady you'll be.

    Thomma Lyn,
    Wow, a hundred years old! And I love the story about the dress! She sounds like she was a spry one and I imagine she is much missed.

  11. Hi Holly--
    Oops, I must have missed your comment while I was posting and didn't see it come in.

    So sorry to hear about your knee--that does make exercising really hard. It's great to hear that you're trying to do what you can in the meantime until it gets a little better.

    Don't give up--every little bit really does help. Start slow and easy but keep at it, eat healthy as you can, and be proud of the things you do to take care of yourself, especially when it's hard.

    Are you a swimmer at all? I hate swimming myself, but I hear that swimming or other water exercise classes are a really good way to exercise when you're injured.

    Best of luck with your knee and thanks for the visit!

  12. How do the healthy old ladies get back DOWN those hills? My semi-senior knees have a tendency to grind in a yucky manner so I find it harder to go downhill than up. I guess I could wear heelies and just roll back down. That just might add the right amount of danger to make my hikes enticing!

  13. Hi Anonymous!
    Good question. I've got the same problem. My usual strategy is to go flat/slightly uphill for the faster more aerobic part of my walk, then pretend I don't hear the crunching on the way down. Then once a week, I go uphill all the way to top of a gigantic hill, and Most Significant Other comes to picks me up in the car. (Am I lucky, or what?) I don't know how these ladies are getting down--haven't seen them use wheels of any sort but will certainly be watching as it could be very amusing!)

  14. Great post. I'll hit the half-century mark this summer and it's starting to occur to me that if I want to live through a good portion of the next half century (at least) I'd better get my butt out of this chair and get some exersise. I'm thinking about mall walking - it's indoors, there's all those interesting shop windows to look at while you walk and no danger of being run over by a maniac on a bicycle. I hear there are a lot of older folk who do this regularly - I'll report back if it's true :-)

  15. Hi Dawno,
    Mall walking is a great idea! I think some malls even encourage it by opening up extra early so you can do it without being swarmed by teenagers and toddlers and oblivious shopping bag wielding bargain hunters.

    I keep reading that even a little bit of exercise really does improve health dramatically. Way to go!

  16. Once, I was flying on an airplane, sitting next to this older woman. She turns to me and says, "I am 92, ya know." I said, "Really?" In my mind no one ever looks 92. She began telling me about how she was going to move to be closer to her son and assorted other facts about her life. One of the things that she said bitterly that really grabbed my attention was "I would stay where I live now but, all of my friends got fat and died." She was angry with them for letting themselves go like that. This was a few years ago but, I could see that she was sad and mad about this. That has stayed with me. It still motivates me today.

  17. "Old" is a relative term. To a 20 y/o, I'm "old" at 50. To myself at 50, an 80 y/o is "old". Of course, I run 4-5 miles a day (hill country, TX) and workout 2 times a week, so I might kick that 20 y/o's butt in a foot race. My 78 y/o father who works on his feet all day, lifts free weights and plays racketball (going for senior nationals)can clean my clock on the court. In the end, it's all relative.

  18. Hi Samantha--interesting story about the lady on the plane. Makes me think I'll have to start nagging my friends more about their health, which was probably not your intent!

    Hi Debbi,
    Good point about relative ages. And I suspect you are someone who will not seem old, either to yourself or others, even into your nineties, with your healthy habits. And your dad sounds amazing too!


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