Leading from the middle

By Brian Cole, Personal Training Associates

Many of us are in the middle. With daughters-sons, and also mothers-fathers, we’re often responsible for decisions that have a major impact on those we love. Middle management is always a tough balancing position, and it’s made more so when it’s about family.

With our daughters and sons, I’m suggesting using the analogy of the oxygen mask during flights. Remember the point is always stressed to put ours on first because we can’t be as effective helping others unless we take care of ourselves first. If we complain about how our sons and daughters are spending too much time with sedentary computer/smart phone activities, we first better be sure we’re setting a good example. Are we practicing good nutrition or giving in to the ease and convenience of fast food, mac and cheese, sodas and drinking too much beer or mixed drinks? Are we not only devoting daily time to being active/exercising but doing it at a time where our children have to notice?

Our culture is based on competition, bringing out the best in us. Winners set an example of inspiration. And consider this: until we fail at something, we can’t improve upon or, if we choose, change direction to find where we’re better. Winning and losing are how we find our way. Trying is what’s essential.

With our mothers and fathers a new challenge is arising. They/we are living longer. There are daily tasks and responsibilities. Consider this: sooner, later or for some right now, a parent really can’t drive his own car any longer. This is a huge blow to one’s independence. At that point major decisions have to be made about safety, groceries, solitude, mobility, etc.

While we have some excellent assisted living/nursing homes in the area, most people will benefit psychologically and physically if able to be self sufficient and live in their own homes as long as possible. When decisions have to be made in the best interests of our mothers and fathers—those loved ones who cared for us and are now ours to care for, we want to get it right. Well, know this: they want to remain as independent as possible for as long as possible.

So—am I talking about removing hazards like throw rugs and extension cords, installing automatic temperature control thermostats, replacing doorknobs with easier-to-use handles, rearranging kitchen shelves for easier accessibility, alarm/alert systems, motion detector lighting, etc.? Yes, I am.

But much more than those basics, I’m talking about real self-sufficiency. Practicing balance training daily, being able to sit and stand repeatedly without tiring, improving grip strength, walking as far and as often as one can, increasing the comfortable range of motion in one’s joints, getting stronger physically and as a result, psychologically.

Here’s what we know: all those aspects of living independently can be improved at any age. I’m not being a cheerleader; this is clearly and consistently proven. We also know that what has previously been referred to as “aging” is absolutely not. This is about habits stealthily creeping into our lives that can make us more and more sedentary. It’s not about the additional years; it’s about the reduced activity. And that can be reversed.

Will all of our parents rally and be up to this challenge? Of course not. And, as I mentioned, there are many fine facilities in our area for those who choose to go. But many will want to maintain their independence for as long as they possibly can. When making these huge decisions for our parents, please try to include this approach.

We in the United States have all lived in the finest and easiest conditions ever known to human beings (think about that for a minute the next time you’re angry and complaining). If we take better care of ourselves first, set an example for our daughters and sons and encourage our parents to stay active, we all get to enjoy so much more of what this short, short life has to offer.

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