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Get the Grandparents Moving: is it possible?

A few years ago, when at the inagural Sunday Parkways, my parents happened to be visiting us for the weekend.  I was determined to bike the route, so I insisted that they join us.  I asked them: do you want to walk or bike?  My dad, who probably hadn't been on a bike in a good 20 years, agreed to ride.  My mom tried in earnest to quickly learn to ride a bike on the sidewalk, but she just couldn't get it.  But she tried.  She ended up riding on the back of my Xtracycle.

A few weeks ago, again it was Sunday Parkways in our neighborhood.  My husband's parents, this time, were visiting.  Again, his parents had either never really ridden a bike or hadn't done so in years.  His dad rode along with us for a few miles, but really petered out at the end.  He was spent.   At one point, my husband just took him home, as he feared his dad would buckle over.  The exertion seemed too much.

Our kids are most definitely lucky in that they have all four of their grandparents.  However, we worry about their health, and what we can do to make them more healthy, more able to spend more time with their grandkids for years to come.

We can't do anything to change their [very sedentary] ways.  Or: can we?  Whenever they visit us, we walk to the store or to dinner or just take walks around the neighborhood.  We push them to continue to walk, even if just around the block, even if just a quarter of a mile to their neighbor.  Walking could be such a great way to get fit, to stay fit.

Back in their hometowns, they drive everywhere.  There is little reason to be active.  There is every reason to settle in front of the TV for hours.  Recreation involves eating out.  

We don't expect our parents to take cross-country bicycle rides or run marathons (although some people their age do!).  We just want them to find a level of fitness and activity that is comfortable for them, in the hopes of extending their lives, increasing their energy levels.  Is that too much to ask?  If your kids have grandparents in their lives, are they active?  Do you worry along these lines?  Or, is it futile, as they will be as they are?


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Interesting question. My parents don't participate in any organized fitness activities but they always took long walks for pleasure and they still do. But they don't live in the US and their lifestyle is not so car dependent.
For American grand parents - I have heard there are groups of seniors in California who go to an indoor shopping mall right after the mall opens but before most stores open and they walk there. At first I thought it was so silly and , well, American, to go to the mall for all your need including exercise, but now I can see many benefits for seniors - the surface is flat and therefore safe, they won't trip and fall, no worries about the heat or cold weather, and there is the social aspect as well.

What can you do to 'make' them more healthy? Nothing - it's up to an adult how they want to take care of themselves.
You 'want them to find a fitness and activity level that is comfortable for them' - who's to say they haven't already found it, but it's just not comfortable for YOU?
While I fully understand the sentiment behind this post, and agree with the importance of regular physical activity to improve and prolong health and quality of life, I also know that the only people we can change are ourselves. So, you can either frustrate yourself and your parents by trying to change them, or you can change yourself by letting go and allowing them to choose their own level of physical activity, even if it makes you sad.
That said, if you must do something, rather than try to force them to change their lifestyles, share your motivations with them. Tell them you want them to be able to be there when their grand-kids graduate or get married, and not just in a wheelchair. Share articles and information about the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle and the benefit of even small amounts of physical activity, and perhaps they will get motivated on their own. Outside of that, just love on them and enjoy them while you have them, and let them live their lives as they choose.

It's an interesting dilemma, to be sure. It is so difficult to see my parents struggling with health issues due to a life of being sedentary. But in some ways it's a cultural difference. It's mostly fascinating to me how much our generation is different from theirs. Even with all my friends who came from sedentary families, I find they are becoming athletic/active anyway. While I try to encourage regular activity, it's up to them to make the final choice. I just lined up a bicycle for my mom to use at Sunday Parkways this weekend. It's a folding bike, and she says "So I can get one of these and take it back and forth between Texas and here!" I do like the way she thinks but I know I got my fear of commitment honest. While I'd love the idea of her riding regularly, I won't hang my hat on it just yet...

My European inlaws are incredibly active and I find them so inspiring. They taking biking vacations around Europe almost every year, my father in law is an avid cyclist and my mother in law takes her dog on orienteering hikes through the mountains near their home. They inspire me. My parents have followed more of a typical American lifestyle--more driving, less physical activity. In the last 10 years or so they have discovered cycling and that has been wonderful. My mom and sister walk or bike together nearly every morning of the week and I have seen the positive effects on my mom. My dad on the other hand, struggles with bad hips and knees and has had a harder time making exercise a routine in his life. He had a hip replacement last year and we all hoped it would be the solution to his problems, but unfortunately, he is still in a great deal of pain. He needs to lose 50+ pounds, takes too much Advil for the pain and struggles to exercise. He's spending more time napping on the couch and doesn't seem to have the energy he used to have. It's a vicious cycle, I worry about him a lot. But as a pp mentioned, he needs to be the one to schedule the appointments with the doctors, to get out and move, and to eat better. It's hard to sit by and watch though, I just know that a few changes could improve his quality of life dramatically.

Both of my parents have passed away and maybe it's cultural but I would never have dreamed of telling them how to live their lives since they luckily extended the same generosity to me.

I actually worry that my mother exercises too much--she's more than a bit obsessive about it, and keeps herself on a very fat- and calorie-restricted diet. I wish she'd be more moderate about it. Riding her bike to the gym and back, circuit training, power walking, swimming and water aerobics, all in one day and fueled by a meager breakfast and a single mid-exercise protein bar--this is what consumes me with worry about my own mother.

My mom moved to Portland and into our house almost two years ago to help with child care for my two young girls and to be closer to family. My brother and I are not moving back to the mid west. She started biking with us (hadn't in over 30 yrs) and walking to the store. She enjoys the encouragement since she has lived in a car focused community prior to moving to Portland. My father on the other hand hikes daily unless slowed by joint pain. It is hard to see active people slowed down. We plan to take my in laws to bike the Sunday Parkways. They are active but not cyclists so we will see how it goes.

Wow, to have the luxury to worry about "only" fitness. You are indeed lucky to have parents young enough and healthy enough to actually get on a bike, let alone ride for few blocks. Now imagine the anxiety, worry, grief, anger, and frustration felt by those of us whose parents are already at the next stage, in which their simply being alive, present, cheery, and affectionate w/our children is a blessing.

I second the sentiments of previous posters who point out that our children's grandparents are adults who, darn it, can make their own bad decisions and unhealthy choices.

I have been wondering how to get my parents up and about more too. My mom is 62 and retired and mostly just sits and plays video games. Yes I said video games. I am so grateful that she watches my kids two days a week so I can take summer classes, but I wish she would get out more with the kids and take for walks and bike rides. I have tried to set a good example for her by eating better and exercising more, but you have to walk a fine line between giving caring suggestions and "preaching." Let me know when you've found the secret to motivating your parents. I wish they would understand that we care so much about them and want to see them live not only longer, but fuller lives.

A few years back, I bought a new bike and passed the old one down to my mom. It had probably been about 30 years since she had ridden a bike. With being gifted the bike and receiving some gentle rib poking from me, she has found a new love of cycling. If I hadn't pushed for her to try it, we wouldn't have this incredibly fun, healthy activity that we can now do with 3 generations. Sure, maybe we all could have had fun playing yatzee or some other sedentary activity (like I had to do with my grandparents), but it wouldn't be nearly as exciting. I don't think she was at all offended that I encouraged exercise or expressed the importance of being active for longevity.

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