Wholly Healthy: Older Folks Need to be Active

I don’t know how many times I see elderly patients in the emergency department who have family members asking them to slow down. They might have come in with a minor injury, or a cold or cough. 

Their children or grandchildren look at me and say, “Doctor, she is 93 and will not stop going! She’s in the garden or in the yard working all the time!” Or, “Daddy is 85 and he needs to just sit down and rest! Instead, he’s driving someone around or working on the house. Tell him to cut it out and take it easy!”

My response is usually to look at the patient and ask, “Do you want to slow down?” “Nope, I like doing things.” I then say to their loving, worried family members: “Being busy and being physical is good. Let them do what they can.”

I have written before about the dangers of being out of shape. Lack of conditioning and strength is bad for us at any age, as is lack of mental engagement. Research suggests that using our bodies (and our brains) contributes to physical and neurological health. 

Indeed, mental and physical activity can help stave off dementia! In addition, activity helps prevent depression. Imagine being older and having no job, then add to that the veritable incarceration of being forced to sit in a chair all day long, thinking about what was and what you’d like to do. And then being told not to do anything — “for your health.”

One of the worst things we can wish for our older loved ones is a life of just sitting. Not only is it deadly boring, it’s just plain deadly. Our bodies were designed for use. We were made for engagement, activity and involvement. Doing makes us healthier.

We were not made to sit and fade away. We were not made to spend 20, 30 or 40 years simply resting so that nothing bad happens. Because something invariably will happen, and it will be bad.

Without question, some people have infirmities that prevent them from physical (or sometimes mental) activity. But they would run circles around us if they could. They dream of having the bodies and brains of those of us who simply waste ours.

There is no age at which God says, “You’re done. Just sit.” That’s not to say we should never retire, but as long as we are able, there is work to be done, and work, whatever form it takes, is good for us.

It’s Christmastime. Give your elderly relatives the gift of encouragement, activity and purpose. And don’t make them sit all day just to make you feel better.