Monday, April 10, 2017

Of Treadmills and Foolishness: Breaking the Family Pattern

Sports and exercise were simply not done by women in my family. Mothers and grandmothers model our first, and lasting, examples of femininity. The idea seemed far-fetched to them that physical activity was important, much less feasible.  Other than leisurely golf, tennis, badminton, or backyard croquet. 

I can't imagine my grandmother ever exercised for her health, and she lived to age 89.  Grandma was a hearty, lifelong farmer's wife, a busy occupation during her era (1897 to 1987), at least until Grandpa retired from small-time farming and beef ranching.

The idea of Grandma on a treadmill is a hilarious vision of cheeriness and her trademark impatience. Bundle of restless energy that she was, I don't recall her sitting except at the meal table.  And then only for 20 minutes before pushing seconds, clearing the table, washing dishes, stoking her prized wood-burning stove. And sitting, absorbed in her favorite TV program, "The Lawrence Welk Program.

Yet, without formal exercise, Grandma remained mobile and lived nine decades with nary a trace of heart disease or cancer, although those last few years were spent in a fog of what we then called senility.   

As a young girl, my outdoorsy mother camped summers in nearby Sequoia and Kings' Canyon Parks, bonded with the family dogs, and rode her beloved horse Dolly everywhere. 

Mother's 1948 community college yearbook featured four full pages devoted to "Girl's Sports," including archery, badminton, volleyball, square dancing, jumping jacks, and lots of tennis. Oddly, she was in none of those photos.

As an adult, my mother never exercised for health, and paid a terrible price of arthritic pain, inflammation, and immobility later in life.  For 15 years, she didn't walk more than a dozen yards at a time, and rarely ventured outside. But still, she lived to age 86, also without a trace of heart disease or cancer.   

My sister exercises and exercises and exercises. Teri walks. A lot.  She walks for miles every possible day, usually on beautiful southern Oregon beaches. She ponders as she walks. She finds peace of mind when walking. But mainly, my sister, a nurse for 30-plus years, walks and hikes for good health.  

Since childhood, I've been a reluctant exerciser. As an exasperating teenager, I would rather be in my room, my head in a book or listening to music. In junior high, Mother pushed me into tennis and archery in summers to get me out of the house. 

I detested P.E., and was mortified when I once fainted while running the high school track.  During my senior year of high school, Mother did what I thought finally qualified her as very cool: she often called me in sick for first-period P.E., and made excuses why I would be well by second period English.  She didn't see the point of exercise or sports for a 17 year old girl. Neither did I. 

Today, though, osteoarthritic pain and stiffness threaten the richness of my life.  Exactly like my mother at sixtysomething. 

Seems our tricked-out recumbent bike has harmed my right hip more than helped over the last two years, so we dumped it last month. But not exercising yields unpleasant results for me... stiffness, pain, inflammation. 

I took a bold (for my family) step recently to do things differently. To break the mold. I bought a treadmill.  And I'm using it. Daily. Comfortably, to my surprise...  

Grandma would be bewildered at our foolishness.  Why do we sit so much today?  When would we find time to to "exercise," when meals need to be created, crops grown, produce canned, farm animals tended, people cared for, laundry done, socks mended, letters to loved ones written? I can hear her: "For heaven's sake, why would you need a machine to walk?" 

Mother would be stubborn.  Two years before she passed, she lamented that had she known more about nutrition and health, she wouldn't have "ended up like this."   Which was utter nonsense. About health, she was hard-headed as an annoyed mule. Unteachable. Pain was pain, and it meant to her that you slow down, not bear down. 

Mother wanted better for me, though.  She beseeched me to handle my health differently then her. She told me, with urgency, innumerable times in those last years.  My sister is proud and supportive, but understandably skeptical. 

Why exercise?  Family genetics aren't everything, of course, and neither my sister or I are particularly predisposed to cancer or heart disease.  But I don't plan to sit for the next 15 years. I don't choose to live in pained isolation or dwell in pain. I choose to follow my sister's good example. 

I also committed to a treadmill to demonstrate to myself that I remain teachable.  I want better for my life, family patterns be damned.  God willing.  

(Note - First two photos were taken from "The Tiger" yearbook of Reedley College in Reedley, California, 1948, my parents' alma mater.)