Thursday, July 18, 2013

Grandparenting: A Sure-Fire Way to Stay Active

The media have been trumpeting the value of seniors continuing to work beyond 65 if they want to stave off Alzheimer's or other dementia-related diseases. A study in France supposedly shows that delaying retirement has that effect. But if we're going to take France as our model, how do we not know that the cumulative effect of wine with nightly dining is the beneficial factor? Or some other aspect of French joie de vivre?

There should be little doubt that staying active makes life better and probably longer, on average. But who wants the negative incentive of staving off some dread malady, whether memory-robbing Alzheimer's or anything else? Indeed, worry about worst-case scenarios will raise your stress levels and harm your health. Several studies have established that people who continually stress out in midlife -- exhibiting irritability, nervousness, sleep deprivation and other symptoms -- are at elevated risk of Alzheimer's. So despite the NBC medical correspondent last night bad-mouthing as having a "head-in-the-sand attitude" those folks who don't want to be tested for early Alzheimer's, I am thinking these easy-going, que sera sera guys and gals may be the really smart ones. (Maybe their first step to lower their stress levels ought to be to turn off NBC News.)

Continued brisk activity is a good thing, though, and for its own sake, not as any preventive strategy. And if you are privileged enough, grandparenting may be the most beneficial pursuit of all. It brings both joy and exercise.

Yesterday, my wife Allyne and I found that we are expectant grandparents, with our Grandchild No. 4 due to enter this world next April. That news provides new incentive to exercise, eat healthy, meditate, and in general try to stay in good shape and be around to enjoy this brand new miracle of human birth.

The news got me to thinking just a few of the ways our three beautiful grandchildren help keep me as mentally and physically sharp as possible.

1. Remembering all the steps needed to cook the perfect Pop-Pop Pancakes all my grandchildren love. One must remember to put just the right amount of Canola Oil into the frying pan after the pan has had just the right amount of time of heat up, and also must remember to shape the batter just the way the Grands like it, and to add a dollop of butter at just the right moment to give the 'cake extra taste, and of course to turn the 'cakes when they are just beginning to get done without burning in the slightest.

All this is a good memory test.

2. Crawling on the living room floor to snag some dangerous object before the grand babe can put it in his or her mouth.

This is a test of agility and dexterity.

3. Reading children's stories like "Goodnight Moon" with just the right inflection so the grand baby will give his or her full attention and want it read over and over til becoming sleepy.

This is a test of visual acuity and literary perception.

4. Packing all the gear necessary for an excursion to a grandkid's game (be it soccer, t-ball, baseball, softball, or basketball). The inventory includes water, snacks, towels, ice packs, quilts in cold weather, umbrellas in hot weather -- and woe be unto you if you forget the camera, or have failed to charge its battery.

This is a test of recall.

5. Transporting all the gear from the car to the field of play, which in some venues (soccer in particular) can entail walking a half-mile or even greater distance.

This is a test of physical fitness, and also maybe a test of intelligence. Why did you not anticipate needing a walker or scooter, especially for Big Mama, who has mobility challenges?

6. Helping the kids take batting practice or kick soccer goals in the backyard.

This requires decent flexibility and continued rehab of the bionic knee. It also may call for a supply of Ben-Gay and cold packs.

7. Keeping up with the teen Grand who lives in Tennessee and is accomplishing great things in school  and out (Spelling Bee citywide winner, creative writer, accomplished musician). And arranging schedules so she can have beach visits with us, and we can enjoy great venues like the Pink Palace and the Memphis Zoo with her.

This requires good skills of communication.

8. Taking the grandkids and their grandma to the shopping mall.

This may be the toughest test of physical endurance of all. I usually am exhausted by the time we have done one store.

9. Playing ball with the young yellow lab and the grandkids.

This can be a very high-energy pursuit. GrandDoublePop  must be sure he has taken his quota of Geritol for the day.

10. Taking all the grandkiddies in the car and going for an excursion to Sweet Frog (for yogurt concoctions) or Bruster's (for classic ice-cream creations). Or to the Krispy Kreme doughnut factory for a hot dozen right off the conveyor.

Now you're talking!

These are but a few examples of the wide-ranging physical and mental conditioning you can derive from the activity of grandparenting. The main benefit is joy, sheer joy, which cannot be quantified in any book of preventive medicine.

                               © Robert G. Holland  2013

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