Live by Feet or Die by Inches
The Memories That Keep me Moving Even When I Don’t Want To Move
My mother and my mother-in-law both died by inches.
Neither had a catastrophic event.
They lived 2000 miles apart and only knew each other through my marriage. But they had a common bond; a story lived by so many others: after a certain age both of them just stopped moving.
One of them spent the last dozen years of her life lying in bed watching television. The other spent the last 20 years sitting in a chair watching television. Both complained of hurting all the time, each one suffering from arthritis, rheumatism, and general joint maladies that worsened with the years.
Both looked to their doctors to heal their aches and pains. Both shared the belief that pharmaceuticals alone could heal their infirmities, if only they could get the magic combination of drug and dosage.
Neither mother would accept that movement, although initially painful, might alleviate some of their pain. Both resisted even a simple act like walking to the mailbox or around the block. One mother would stubbornly insist that she could still get around, but retreat to her bed after even a short bout of walking.
In the late 1980s we took “the moms” on a driving trip and a strange thing happened. During the day each tried to outdo the other in getting in and out of the car, walking around, and seeing the sights. In the evening each tried to outdo the other for who hurt the most. Like Quint and Hooper comparing scars in the movie Jaws, they took turns reciting a list of all the pharmaceuticals they were taking - or had taken during the past twenty years - along with their effectiveness ratings. They shared anger over failed promises of the latest drug and the idiots who’d tell them they would feel better if they got up and moved around.
Both were aware of exercise; both watched Jack LaLane on TV in the fifties, sixties and seventies. One mother signed a lifetime contract to a health club in the 1970s. She quit going, got sued, and developed a lifelong hatred of health clubs.
Both mothers worked hard all their lives in factories, beauty shops, restaurants. They raised families. They suffered abusive husbands. Both were industrious; both managed to feed their children even during times where there was little or no money. Neither was lazy. But when Social Security and Medicare kicked in and they no longer had to work, they felt entitled to stop. So they just stopped. Just. Stopped.
Over the years, the effects of inactivity, overweight, and poor nutrition took a toll. They each fell victim to one malady after another. A creeping death by inches.
From research we know that in our 30s we start losing muscle mass to age-related sarcopenia, the “loss of muscle mass, or loss of muscle function or strength.” If we are sedentary, activity-related sarcopenia will rob us of 3% to 5% of muscle mass per decade. We go through middle age and into our senior years caught in an ugly cycle: Muscle gives us energy; as we lose muscle we have less energy. Less energy leads to less activity. Less activity accelerates muscle loss. We sit down more. We use our feet less. Our muscles get smaller and weaker. We die by inches.
There’s good news: The cycle can be broken. While there are several factors that contribute to muscle loss, research confirms that we have control over two important ones: nutrition and activity. I repeat: We have control over two important factors that can help us greet each year standing on our feet. Standing strong.
And a little bad news. Because many factors related to muscle loss are not in our control, as we age we need to work even harder to maintain and build our muscles if we want to avoid frailty. We have no entitlement to just stop.
We must use our heads to keep our feet moving. As we age we should continually prioritize our aerobic and strength-building activities. Walk more. Bicycle more. Dance more. Swim More. Move more. Live more.
So just stop sitting and get those feet moving! Live By Feet!