Exercising – Mind & Body

“Use it or lose it” is trite, but true, and I try to keep it in mind. But the “flesh is willing, but the spirit is weak” seems to dominate, and my attempts to be proactive are often thwarted by my pathetic procrastination!

Dorothy, my wife, has been living apart from me in a care home for well over twelve months now. She is domiciled with a dozen or so ladies, each with their own ‘bed-sitters’ and bathroom. All the other residents in her group have similar, but actually very different, forms of Alzheimer’s.  When I visit in the late morning, I often find them all involved with their daily, mostly ‘sit down’, activities designed to help them keep some effective muscle movement and coordination. As well as that stimulation the staff often take residents on ‘one-on-one’ group walks inside and outdoors, even to nearby parks, when the weather permits.

I quickly re-discovered two important facts. The first is that Dorothy does not respond quickly or easily to the verbal or demonstrated actions at these daily exercise sessions and often she doesn’t even mimic the actions of those who do manage it. With some encouragement, she will try, but seems unable distinguish left from right and even after starting an action is inclined to continue it after the others, or the leader, have stopped. Complex instructions to her, like “place your left-hand on right shoulder” can result in some bizarre contortions or no response! I am always amazed at the range of comprehension by the different participants – some react surprisingly quickly and correctly to different activities. The leader, of course, shows by example but it’s clear that some residents, Dorothy included, can’t quite follow or copy, some movements. There is a big difference in response, though, when it’s time to catch a balloon or a small beanbag! Most, including Dorothy, can react quickly effectively and usually enthusiastically when it’s time to ‘catch and throw’. Surprisingly, Dorothy is mostly still a good walker and can still walk and sit unaided, and she’ll be 88 next month! Maybe some earlier-life-learned ball skills still come to the surface, like basketball/netball/games with the kids – perhaps those times, irresistibly, can find their way into the present…….

The second fact that emerges from these sessions is just how unfit I am! So now I’m ‘having a go’ at some properly controlled small-group exercises at the local council-run Gym each week. I will also try to do more walking, and spend less time sitting here at the computer or watching the TV. It’s a sign of the times that I would even consider my immersion in those activities. “In my days…..”, Yes, my life was more physical but now I have to admit to having succumbed to an ‘easy lifestyle’. There is little doubt that some of you, as readers of this blog with an infirm partner like me, have also become more reclusive and less motivated in lots of ways. It’s not easy to keep physically motivated on your own, especially having been spoiled by a loving partner for a very long time. Domestic chores, gradually or suddenly, become a real burden. But, you blokes out there who read these blogs, are probably in the same boat! I’m no role model, so don’t do as I do, but you’d better do what I say, and start getting more physical! It’s harder, isn’t it, to socialise when you’re preoccupied with a partner’s condition that is different, not just Alzheimer’s, but any infirmity – I am remembering some men friends who are even more preoccupied, and personally involved, with a partner’s problem than I am. All of that just reinforces my thoughts of going twice a week to the Gym which might also have an added ‘socialising’ dimension.  

Keeping fit, we all know, means much more than physical wellbeing, it must be wholistic. It must include meeting other people, like at the Gym, or my Probus club, or at Church, or visiting friends, or helping mates with PC problems, dining with a neighbour, keeping in touch with family and friends, and reading a book; they are all part of keeping fit in mind and body.

‘Use it or lose it’ applies not just to body, but also to mind and soul – certainly in my case, anyway!