My Blog

August 16, 2017

Elderly Mothers and Exercise

My 98 year-old mother laughs, or perhaps sneers, at the chair exercises offered for the elderly @CarriageInn. She hardly considers them exercise, but she is doing them now. Her Physical Therapist said she had to.

Nathan, the young (42), good-looking Physical Therapist came yesterday. Medicare may not pay for much but, thank goodness, it does pay for that. Mom’s doctor had ordered the PT as part of the Home Health Care visits. Rachel, the nurse, comes in the morning to rewrap her wounded ankle, Nathan comes in the afternoon to check on her exercise. It makes for a busy day.

When he came, it wasn’t that Nathan challenged Mom to an arm wrestling competition, mind you. All he asked her to do was resist as he pressed on her arms or legs to test her strength. Instantly inspired to prove her ‘mettle,’ Mom pushed back fiercely. It pleased her to impress him. With great pride, she informed him that she had always been an athlete and therefore highly competitive.

Which is true. Sort of.

Mom’s father was a strong believer in exercise. Although he was not German himself, he was influenced by the ideas of the Turnverein, or gymnastics and calisthenics created by Friedrich Jahn in Germany in 1811. During the 1800s and early 1900s, the idea of exercising and physical education spread into the United States from Europe. In 1823, Catharine Beecher had adopted the European models of exercise and included women. The following year German scholar Charles Beck opened a gymnasium in Massachusetts and many other “Turners” followed across the U.S.

Mom’s father’s second family (his first wife died and his son was grown and gone) consisted of a very proper young Kentucky beauty whom he met in Miami and three young daughters. By example, he encouraged the girls to exercise. Mom remembers him doing handstands and flips across the yard when he was already in his fifties. The girls followed suit. Mom turned to swimming, while her sisters played avid tennis.

Living in Miami helped. Mom began swimming competitively at the beautiful Coral Gables Biltmore pool. By 1936, she was good enough to compete for the US Olympic Team. She was beaten out by a tenth of a second by one of her friends. To her deepest regret, she did not get to attend the games in Germany before Adolf Hitler, something she still talks about today.

Once she moved to Mexico, Mom joined several other American women to form a swimming club. At a time when Esther Williams was all the rage, she and her friends performed water ballets for the Mexican President. She also insisted that all of us children ‘enjoy’ the benefits of swimming. Pools in Mexico are not usually heated and, at 5,000 feet, the air is plenty chilly. I can still remember being chased around the pool and forced to jump in to do our laps in the frigid water.

Mom took up swimming again when she and Al began their treks north and south in the 1980s and 1990s. There were always YMCA or community pools wherever they went. Al would drop her off at the pool and go off to play tennis. She did her half mile of backstroke and waited for him to come pick her up. During the summers when she was with me or my brother, we made sure to get her to a nearby pool. Conroe is not so nearby (60 miles round trip) but we went.

Now, however, Mom no longer has the stamina to swim. And the Conroe pool is too far away. But thanks to Nathan, sneer though she may, she will be doing the chair exercises for the elderly at her Residential Facility. I haven’t checked to see if she is trying to beat the other ladies.

How does one ‘win’ at chair exercises?

About Caroline Castillo Crimm
Retired Professor Emeritus from Sam Houston State University, interested in writing novels and speaking about topics such as the history of Latin American. Would like to share the AMAZING world of the 18th century in Northern New Spain, that's Spanish Texas and Mexico!
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