A Great Grandmother Shares 3 Major Benefits of Exercise for Seniors
When StrongPath spoke to Meg Tardio about the benefits of exercise for seniors, she was on her way out to a “fitness dinner” with a group of women. They were all set to meet at a bar in their club—close to where they work out at seven or eight every morning. Then they were going to walk to a nearby restaurant and bring their grab bag gifts to exchange. It was the first time Meg had been asked to go with the inner circle of this group of “hard core exercise fanatics” and she was excited about it. Maybe they would discuss their morning workouts, since that’s what they have in common. “It’s a new group of friends for me,” she said. “They’re from the gym, a few of them I don’t even know their last names.” Sounds like a typical girls’ night out. Oh, and Meg Tardio is turning 84.
Her morning workout has been life-changing—and not just her social life. Meg has been working out for over 50 years, and credits her weight lifting and treadmill routine with aging gracefully, including everything from keeping up with her 11 grandchildren and newborn great grandchild to finding “physical and mental joy” to preventing a recent fall from becoming a health disaster.
When Meg was younger, she began her workouts after having her fourth child, “to get the weight off.” That was over five decades ago. She loved how she felt and decided to continue even after she lost the weight. She said that building strength was very much a part of raising her family. “Having girls, you need mental strength. For boys you need both mental and physical strength.” And since her 11 grandchildren grew up close-by, she wanted to be able to interact in a real way with them, too.
And for the two-month-old great granddaughter? “Babies don’t weigh that much,” Meg said. “But when a baby becomes a toddler, and you try to pick up a child and you don’t have a strong back, you’ll suffer terribly. Especially women, your pelvic muscles are not what they used to be. And if you can’t pick them up you’re not going to be a very good grandmother.” As for the notion that young mothers don’t want their own grandmothers carrying around their babies, Meg said “I can understand a young mother looking at an older gray-haired person and thinking silently to herself ‘Please don’t drop my child. At least sit down.’” But Meg can stand and hold her great grandchild.
The Importance of Strength Training for Seniors
It is now well researched and published that strength training is important as we age, and especially as we reach our 70s, 80s and 90s. The goal is to “reduce the loss of muscle mass and resulting loss of motor function,” as cited in an article in Deutsches Arzteblatt. Indeed Meg said that she is intent on weight lifting “not to have a body-builder body, but to not lose any strength.” She also said that now that her husband has retired “I need to feel good about myself.” And to be able to get down on her hands and knees and even stomach when he asks her to find a missing object under a piece of furniture—and be able to get up again.
Her six-day-a-week workout consists of walking on the treadmill followed by weight lifting on a bench. She does shoulder presses and chest flyes with dumbbells from a reclining position—30 repetitions each—followed by back and tricep exercises with the weights, “you know, for the back of the arms, that’s what you don’t like when you get older, those lovely arms.” Once on a floor mat, she does squats with kettle bells and lifts a 15-pound bar chest-high. How did she learn proper form? “I have taken hundreds of body sculpting classes over the years. Plus I watch the personal trainers and steal from them.” She finishes up her routine with resistance bands for her arms.
Weight Training Offers Everyday Benefits for Seniors
One of the benefits Meg credits to her routine is being able to do simple everyday chores, like carrying groceries from the car to the apartment she shares with her husband of 60 years. But beyond that, “I love having a mental edge,” she said, which she gets from her workout. She jokingly added “When you’re dealing with a retired husband home all the time you need to be mentally strong as well as physically fit.” It also gives her a calming start to her day, as she works out at 8 a.m. at her fitness club and then goes home to read the paper and eat breakfast. (Don’t tell her two super food-eating, health-conscious daughters, but it’s a breakfast of Cheerios, blueberries, sliced almonds, sunflower seeds, and 1 percent milk.)
The Social Benefits of Exercise for Seniors
Another benefit of exercise for seniors is the social aspect, as in the “fitness dinner” she attended. “I find going to the gym to be very social, you meet people and chat.”
As for the recent health crisis averted, Meg was recently in New York City on a snowy day with her daughter and granddaughter. They did a lot of walking and she slipped on the ice and fell. “But I did not hurt myself, I fell on my side, my fanny, but I was fine, I was able to pick myself right up and continue. My daughter was so concerned I was going to have big bruises but I didn’t. I attribute this to my working out. I have to pat myself on the back about that.”
She explained that older people fall a lot because they shuffle instead of picking up their feet, so they trip on the threshold of a door, or the transition between rooms, or the edge of a rug. Working out gives her the strength to pick up her feet and actually walk without the shuffle.
Women and Power
Meg also thinks women at any age should harness their power into physicality and doing something for themselves (Think Glenn Close’s speech at the Golden Globes.) “Women have so much mental power that can cross over into physical fitness if they want it to. You can’t be a lazy couch potato watching soap operas, that’s over, though some women in my generation did that. Young mothers, they all work and they work out, I think it’s wonderful.”
Working out has helped her feel young too. “We don’t feel old. We are old, but we don’t feel it,” she explained referring to her husband and herself. “As long as you don’t look in the mirror, you can still feel 25.”