You get to be a slug by accident. A recent move of mine confirms this. The house I owned for the last eight years was two-stories and on a quarter acre. Where I live now is single-story with very little yard. And lawn service for that! If I don’t turn this around soon, I will be shopping for clothes in ever larger sizes.
It was the right decision, and it’s a nice place. But I miss my stairs. My workroom was up, my kitchen down. Bedroom up, TV and entertaining spaces down. All day every day for 16 hours or more, those stairs were part of my life. Between that and yard work (or on rare occasion shoveling the driveway), I got a good workout without ever needing to call it “exercise.” Now? The most exercise I get without naming it as such is watering the potted plants on the front porch every other day.
Usually, I’m pretty good at anticipating things that are going to be difficult when I make a change. I totally missed this one. I’m accustomed to having my exercise hidden in my lifestyle. Sure I can go to the gym and get on a stair-stepper, but that’s not who I am. I’d much rather run up to check my calendar or down to take meat out of the freezer for dinner. I’d rather lift bags of steer manure in the garden than free weights at some workout place. Much as the move is right as part of a long term strategy, I’m not relishing the need to consciously create “exercise” for myself every day.
Now that I’m really looking at the situation though, I can see there’s more to this than “oh poor me.” We’ve seen stories about older people who died after they were placed in senior housing after living in more physically demanding homes their whole lives. Most of the stories I’ve heard assumed they died of homesickness.
Perhaps there’s more to it than that.
My new place was built as part of a 55+ community. (Go ahead. Point your fingers and laugh. I said I would never do this.) Everything is on one floor and “easily accessible.” Outside of some extra shelving we added that I need to use a step ladder to access, I don’t even have to bend or reach very much. That’s all by design—the perfect home for an “aging boomer.”
Are we right in assuming that as we age we should plan to do less physically? Are we really doing ourselves the favor that builders and real estate agents claim we are with the “all on one floor” concept? Is lawn service really a plus when we have the time and could still be doing that physical activity ourselves? Does it make any sense at all to give up stuff we could still do ourselves just because we are “getting older?”
My mom resisted getting a clothes dryer for decades. She didn’t want to lose the exercise and fresh air she got hanging clothes outside. (In case you are envisioning this buxom farm wife, please note my mom was a willowy city girl with a degree in intellectual history.) She was right on with this one and I should have been paying better attention. Now I understand. I want my multi-purpose movement (exercise I don’t consciously have to plan) back.
I can still fix this. Luckily, the move I just made is a temporary one. I don’t own this house. When we buy together a year or two down the road, I’ll be aware of this need. For now, I can make an effort to get “exercise” into my daily routine and accept being a gym rat for the short term. But far more often, this “less demanding” new environment is permanent. How many of us are losing our vitality way before we need to by downsizing to places that are designed to take physical activity (aka “work”) out of our lives?
The challenge of doing those daily tasks may be part of what keeps us going. My dad was diagnosed with heart disease in his 40’s. Later in life, that included congestive heart failure. For virtually his entire adult life, he went up a full flight of stairs each night to take his shower. When he died at age 85, he was still taking a daily walk, working on his writing every day, and fully engaged in his community. Doesn’t that seem like a better way to do this?
We need to rethink this notion that less physical work is good for us as we get older. Sure, we probably won’t be pitching hay or digging trenches. But there’s middle ground between the two extremes where we would be much better off. For me, that includes a flight of stairs.
Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love. She has also recently released an e-book on Kindle titled 39 Bites of Wisdom: Little Lessons on Getting Life Right. For more, see her website www.mining-silver.com.