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Exercise: Social As Well As Active – Insights from My Mother

My Mum and Dad are in their 80s and have been regular aqua-joggers for almost 20 years. I chatted to my Mum to gain more insight.

Photo of Meena Kadri
9 15

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My parents are in their 80s and live a different city to me here in New Zealand. Both being retired doctors, they're well aware of the need to stay active as they age. I chatted to my mother about their daily routine of going aqua-jogging together at 8am (after they've enjoyed a cup of ginger chai made lovingly by my Dad).

A big highlight from her was that it's about more than the exercise but also the social connection with the other aqua-jogging seniors who join them at the pool each morning. For many of them, it is their only trip out of their homes each day – and they chat about everything from local news to their favourite books and recipes. They're a mixed bunch from various walks of life – but are all connected by their desire to be active as they age. Three of them use walkers to get around on land but join in to aqua-jog with others in the water.

My parents started aqua-jogging in their 60s – but as they aged switched to a heated pool – a great insight on our changing needs needs as we age. Last year my mother suffered a stroke. She was still keen to get down the pools for the social connection as well as the exercise. She spoke to her physiotherapist who accompanied her to the pools and showed her how to get up and down the stairs in an easier way and suggested new exercises which would suit her recovery. In fact, my mother feels that regular visits to the pool have played a significant role in her recuperation.

I asked her what would happen if things got to the stage that she and Dad couldn't drive themselves to the pools. She's grateful that they have enough community support to ensure they'd still get down there while they are physically able to exercise. She's also appreciates that social services in New Zealand provide support to people who want to do things like aqua-jogging but who can't drive and don't have adequate community support to get them to where they need to be.

Her last bit of advice is that as people age they need to keep both their minds and bodies active: Use It Don't Lose It!

How might we spread the word to ageing people about local options for social exercise? What might help them get over the initial shyness and other barriers to joining up? How might we create services for folks who are keen to participate in social forms of exercise but need help getting to where they can join in?

Oh – and why don't you try out interviewing some older folks in your life to gain insights? Try out our Interview Toolkit to get started. 

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Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Thanks Meena for this great inspiration. The social connection (entangled with the physical aspect) is indeed a great insight. I
I love the idea of social exercise, very similar to what I observed in parks in Asia:
http://www.openideo.com/open/mayo-clinic/inspiration/tight-social-networks-and-activities-in-japan-and-china/

The social component has been indeed stressed by many inspirations including:
http://www.openideo.com/open/mayo-clinic/inspiration/the-importance-of-social-capital

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Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Meena, thinking about this post and your conversation with your mum, I realized that it would be very difficult for me to have such a conversation with mine (who will turn 70 next year) as it's not a topic we can discuss openly. This is in itself is a signal of how painful the experience is for her... and she does not the social connections your parents seem to have.

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Photo of Meena Kadri

The thing that was fascinating for me was that my Mum reached out to me over this rather than the other way around (she's signed up to OpenIDEO so gets our challenge announcements) So for her, this OpenIDEO challenge has prompted her to think about and discuss these issues without me triggering the conversation. I've also noticed a shift in her thinking since she suffered a stroke last year. Previously she was much less inclined to reflect on this topic – but after her stroke she joined a post-stroke group and I think that's helped her realise the power of sharing thoughts and reflections with others.

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Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Fascinating indeed. It's great that you were able to have this conversation whatever is the reason. I feel these are important conversations to have.
I agree with you that the stroke experience might have had an impact but some people might decide to ignore it "even more".
I personally have been particularly sensitive to the issue of mortality lately with 2 friends who have been through very difficult health situations. It also led me to reconsider priorities.

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