The Prairie Doc Perspective

Don’t lose it

By Richard P. Holm M.D.

This is a lesson for kids of every age; for babies, and toddlers, for teenagers and young adults, for older adults and even the very old: daily movement and physical activity improves the quality of life for anyone who finds the discipline to walk. And if you don’t use it, you lose it.

If you ask any of my patients, many will tell you I sound like a broken record that keeps repeating the same exercise recommendation. I’m sorry, but over the years I have been convinced that, with few exceptions, no matter what age and condition, no matter what size and shape, daily exercise is the single best thing we can do for ourselves.

Although the advent of power chairs has been a godsend for many very disabled people, these mobility helpers can be a harmful thing for the borderline disabled who would benefit from having to walk. I observed one elderly person who purchased a used battery powered chair despite my recommendation against it, and watched how he became weakened and then very disabled over just three months, until his family realized what it was doing to him and took it away. And then like magic, he came back to being mobile again, while not dependent on the mobility aid. That real story clarifies the powerful need we all have to keep moving, today and every day.

Discussing independence and preventing falls with a physical therapist yesterday she spoke about the value of core strength to prevent loss of balance. These are important issues especially for those who are in the retirement years. I asked her which exercise would help that core strength and balance best and the answer was daily walking. Say it again: daily walking.

One gentleman shared with me yesterday that he finally began the exercise program advised, and was pleasantly surprised how much better he felt and how much he has enjoyed the daily two mile walk with the dog. “Walk even through this cold winter sub-zero weather, but you need to dress warm enough,” he advised. “And your dog will enjoy it too!”

“I walk today, so I can walk tomorrow,” my 95 year old aunt Audrey exclaimed. Those were her actual words and although she has been gone for years, her encouragement to stay mobile has been the perfect theme song for a geriatrician caring for the elderly… and for people of all ages too.

So, don’t lose it. You just have to have discipline to walk, today and every day.

Dr. Rick Holm wrote this Prairie Doc Perspective for “On Call®,” a weekly program where medical professionals discuss health concerns for the general public.  “On Call®” is produced by the Healing Words Foundation in association with the South Dakota State University Journalism Department. “On Call®” airs Thursdays on South Dakota Public Broadcasting-Television at 7 p.m. Central, 6 p.m. Mountain. Visit us at OnCallTelevision.com. 

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