Randi Kreiss

Take it from the nonagenarians: chill out

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I never, ever, saw my parents run.

The only time I saw my mother sweat was when she was beating 12 egg whites for her Passover sponge cake. It was one of the riskiest things she ever did, and she did it every year — just once, for the holiday.

My father stressed out one time when he was 33, trying to put together a 400-piece swing set in the backyard. But by and large, day in and day out, week to week, year by year, decade to decade, they basically took it easy. That was their motto until the day they died, he at 97 and she at 94.

I’ve heard that other families had mottos like “United and Growing” or “Every Day is a Second Chance” or “Family First.” Ours was “Take it Easy.” Our family coat of arms (had there been one) would have shown an elderly man in an easy chair with a book in his hand. That was pretty much how my dad spent most of his life. Of course, he worked for a few years, but by age 55 he was retired. He enjoyed his brief morning walk, then half a sandwich, a cup of decaf and a slow glide into his reading chair.

On a busy day, he might go to the post office, or if he was in super-high-energy mode, to the mall with my mother.

Mom’s days were also mellow. She operated on a higher frequency than Dad, but whatever she did, she honored her personal code: moderation in everything. Taken with “Take it Easy,” things moved slowly in their household.

And both lived well into their 90s. They never hiked, never biked, never saw the inside of a gym. They did some traveling with (of course) middle-of-the-road companies that guided them on non-adventurous trips that followed well-traveled itineraries.

Whenever I spoke with them, calling from my home in New York to their place in Florida, I always asked, “What did you do today?” which was remarkably silly of me, since the answer was always the same: They relaxed.

The thing is, they had a great life, a very long life and they were quite happy. Were they on to something or just a unicorn of a couple? The AMA, AARP, AAA and all the other alphabet organizations don’t approve of sedentary lifestyles.

So what do I do? Follow the parental mode and veg out, or listen to the common wisdom and get up and go? I feel pretty guilty most of the time because I read about exercise but don’t actually do it. I’m sort of a virtual jock. I read that sitting in a chair for more than 20 minutes at a time is clogging my arteries. I see on my computer that if I don’t get off screens and jog into town, I’ll cause my own heart attack or Alzheimer’s or depression. I read all this stuff because I’m on screens way too many hours a day, and trending upward. I’m pretty much an expert on how much exercise I should be getting.

The most seductive health-related articles try to be encouraging with an it’s-never-too-late pitch. I was kind of hoping that it is too late, that I could bag the exercise and go on power-saving mode, but the researchers are telling me that even in older middle age, which now apparently reaches to 100, one can still tone muscles and extend life. First they said it had to be three hours a week, then 40 minutes, then maybe just seven minutes of a really rigorous workout. I’m holding out for the two-minute jumping-jacks routine.

I thought perhaps I’d feel more energized if I targeted a problem. So I looked up how to trim upper-arm flab, which is one of the biblical plagues known colloquially as Hadassah arms, although the condition isn’t particular to Jewish women. The trainers advise a regimen of bicep curls, push-ups and something called the Vasisthasana, or side plank pose. Mom and Dad would be appalled.

I will not tarnish their legacy by twisting my body into a side plank.

My hope is that when it comes to rigorous exercise, this too shall pass, and my parents’ sensible way of life will come back in fashion. I don’t have to say “May they rest in peace” because I know they are.

Copyright 2019 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.