Living LifeWise: My Favorite Athlete

Living Lifewise Thursday, August 14, 2014 Written by

Living LifeWise is a regular column provided by LifeWise Ambassadors – LifeWise employees whose healthy choices are helping them live better lives. Today’s column is provided by LifeWise Ambassador Christopher Breunig.

Christopher Breunig's favorite athlete: his momWho’s your favorite athlete? Richard Sherman? Serena Williams? Clint Dempsey? Mine is a bit unusual: my 88-year-old mom, Ruth Breunig. She’s not your typical idea of an athlete, but her physical regimen and healthy attitude inspire the heck out of me. Let me tell you why.

As I’ve observed and helped my parents and in-laws through the aging process, I have learned a lot about what it means for a body to grow old. The ailments and events they’ve faced have sent me to Wikipedia more than once, and the medical care they’ve received has been sometimes elaborate and always critical. But what has really impressed me is that, in every instance, the most critical thing for recovery and health seems to be a commitment to physical activity.

My mother was an enthusiastic dancer in her youth. Teen parties were mostly about dancing, and good dancers—girls and boys alike—were noticed and admired. Other than dancing, though, my mother assiduously avoided any exercise. As a seamstress, weaver and quilter, her activities focused on seated handwork. When my father took up walking, she declined with the incongruous excuse that walking outside made her nose run. When he took up running, she simply ignored him. When she occasionally swam in a pool (never the ocean!), she would glide slowly by breaststroke with her head above the water level. Not quite the picture of athletic prowess.

But when age and arthritis crept into her body and awareness, she got a stationary bike. She has ridden one for 21 years. Every day. She rode it while caring for my father when he got sick, she rode it through her own knee replacements, and she took it with her when she moved to her assisted living apartment.

Favorite Athlete stationary bike
When she developed new aches and pains, especially in her back, she started lifting weights. When a recent health event confined her to the bed for a while, all she talked about was wanting to get back on her bike. She may not lead anyone to a championship, but to me she is a shining example of being active every day, and that’s why she’s my favorite athlete.

Here is what her example has taught me:

Aging doesn’t have a cure—but you can still be healthy about it.
Even though I am only beginning to understand aging, I have seen that nearly everything it affects—balance, cognition, mood, strength, flexibility and stamina—is helped by physical activity. Nothing is helped by just sitting.

When it comes to health and fitness, we must be open to new things and outside help.
My mom was doubtful when a trainer first encouraged her to lift weights. But once she tried it, she was amazed at the pain relief.

Don’t stop doing what you do, even if you can’t do it as well as you used to.
I met an 85-year-old who still manages to go skiing regularly, and you know what he said his secret was? Not to stop skiing. Simple, but profound. Think about the limitations we put on ourselves when the internal yardstick is the accomplishments of our “glory days.” If this guy had simply given up skiing when he got “too old,” he wouldn’t be as fit as he is now—and he also would have had a lot less fun.

Gratitude is a key fuel for the journey.
Until some limitation appears, it is easy to take for granted our amazing capabilities. Being able to walk a mile may seem like a given to many of us, but for someone with a walker or heart issue, covering a mile is a huge accomplishment. Feeling gratitude for what we can do right now makes our activity more meaningful, which helps us maintain our commitment to activity as our abilities change with age.

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Christopher BreunigChristopher Breunig is married and father of a son and daughter in their late teen years. He lives in Bellevue and tries to serve as a good example to his kids, and sometimes as a cautionary warning.