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A lesson comes home

Such a year this has been. We've experienced individual and collective financial calamity, substantial governmental transition and weather of unprecedented fierceness.

The world around us is in a state of tumultuous change. You can't even count on gas prices to be high. Not that exploding gas prices was a good thing, but that period of time seems strangely "less bad" than some of what's been going on recently. But maybe that's just me.

How's it been for you?

In recent months, I've been uncharacteristically sedentary. I'm choosing to believe early a.m. darkness or cold weather and slippery streets is what deters me from my morning walks. Or sometimes I attribute it to work-related projects that literally chain me to my computer. (Those are just some of my excuses — the list is very long.)

In recent months I have found myself going for nearly a week without the recommended 30 minutes a day of physical activity. (I'm sure I'll regret having made that fact so public, but it's part of my intervention strategy). It happens before you realize it is. Sedentary is seductive.

In times past, I've tended to be critical when I've seen the same thing in others. Too smugly, I've offered up a standard "use it or lose it" speech. I'm feeling a bit sheepish about that at the moment.

My epiphany came during our family's recent holiday excursion in Seattle. I was crossing a slushy street and I attempted to pick up and carry my young granddaughter who was having trouble maneuvering chunks of hardening snow. I could not do it. I could not get properly balanced and I could not muster the needed arm strength to lift her. I have never experienced that before. She was not too big, I was too weak. Oh, you are very kind if you're going to suggest that maybe she is, in fact, too big. Or if you think it was the weather conditions on that particular day or her slippery padded jacket made it difficult. I thought of that.

I did not like the feeling of lost ability. I know just about enough about exercise and physical fitness to know that particular situation was avoidable. I know I need (you do too) a minimum of 30 minutes of daily aerobic exercise (like walking) and, twice-a-week, some form of strength training.

I have theory that when the world is swirling and swerving, the only thing you can really count on is yourself. As illustration, have you heard about the nursing-home study involving people whose average age was 88? These individuals decided to initiate a structured exercise program. Twice a week over 12 weeks they met — wheel chairs and walkers close at hand and determination visible. There they were stretching, bending and lifting soup cans instead of hand weights in some instances. Before I share their amazing results, let me remind you again — these are elders in a nursing care environment. Their strength (on average) increased by 174 percent.

That made many of them strong enough to lift and hold, not necessarily grandchildren — but great grandchildren.

Yes we can.