Fit Grandma

Over the past 20 years, I’ve conducted many studies where we ask middle-aged and older people to exercise, and measure effects on their health. I’ve learned that there are several basic human movements, things we need to perform activities of daily life. I’ve listed these movements below, with annotations of how they are critical for grandparents who are visiting or caring for young grandchildren.

Walk and run: Grandparents can often sooth a crying baby by walking. It’s especially important with a newborn, because the parents may be so disoriented from lack of sleep that they walk into walls. Not a good thing with a babe in arms. You may also be called upon to run after a baby or toddler who has decided to try going down stairs without help from a grownup.

Squat: You’ll use this motion to look a preschooler in the eye as you tell her no she really can’t get out the finger paints five minutes before naptime. You’ll squat to pick up the toast that landed jam-side down on the floor already sprinkled with that day’s toddler crumbs. If you’re not quick, the toddler will delicately pluck it up and swallow it with a grin. Floor-food-eating doesn’t seem to bother the parents, so it’s just your own hygienic desires to be satisfied here.

Push: Picture a sunny day, birds chirping, little baby peacefully sleeping as you push the designer carriage you bought for him. You’re basking in the sunshine, in the pride as neighbors peer into the carriage with smiles of delight, and in the little bit of exercise you’re getting. Now the reality. The baby is screaming and won’t yet take a bottle, so you’re rushing home to get him to mom’s breast before the world ends. Or, you’re pushing 60 pounds of toddler and preschooler uphill in a double stroller, and the preschooler keeps saying, “Hurry, Grandma,” because she wants to play in the park now.

Pull: This is a useful movement for yanking a kid away from the brink of death and destruction. Like plucking a preschooler out of a giant puddle when she isn’t wearing rain boots, or avoiding the 6-inch slug she wants to pick up and hand to you, or keeping an 18-month-old boy from joining a teenagers’ game of pick-up basketball because he thinks he’s got game.

Bend: Leaning over the crib, you delicately lower your sleeping grandson onto the mattress. If you can’t bend far enough over, you risk dropping him the last few inches, surely waking him (and risking the parents’ scorn).

Lunge: This little action can save your grandson who has decided he can stand on the sofa arm. His head is as big as the rest of his body, so if he looks down just a little, his whole body will catapult and he’ll hit the floor forehead first. It’s best to minimize the number of bumps and bruises on your watch.

Twist: You’ll need to turn your head while diapering one grandchild to see what nefarious activity the other one is up to. Preferably, you’ll execute a 180 degree turn like an owl. This will give you a clear view and greatly impress an older grandchild. In reality, you’ll be lucky if your arthritic spine will let you turn at all.

Lift: If you sit for babies, toddlers, or preschoolers, you’ll be lifting all day long. Sometimes the child will ask for it, especially if you have your hands full with another child or the food you’re preparing for her lunch. Sometimes, the toddler will decide he does not want to be picked up, in which case you’ll be lifting and carrying a limp or squiggling creature.

Carry: As a young parent, you carried little ones without giving it much thought. With some years under your belt, you’ll discover some positions work better than others. I can hold kids in my arms and on my hips, but my aching back screams when I try to use a baby carrier in any position. If you have a strong back, go ahead and try the various wraps and carriers the baby’s mom has purchased. Make sure that at least one parent tests you on putting baby in and out of the contraption. It’s important that both you and baby can breathe, and that you can easily remove outer layers of clothing (hot flashes with a sweaty little baby on you are miserable). Some kids like to be carried on shoulders, but the parents might be wary, especially if they remember the time grandpa dropped them from that position when they were kids.

In future blogs, I’ll give advice on ways to increase strength, flexibility, and aerobic capacity so grandma and grandpa can be fit for duty.

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