Are you strong enough to keep up with the grandkids?
After the grandchildren were here recently, my body felt like it had gone through a triathlon.
Well, it felt like what I imagine a triathlete feels like.
I had spent two weeks up and down off the floor; lifting and carrying a 15-pound baby; picking up and putting down toys; dancing and hiking with a 4-year-old.
My arms were sore. My legs were tired. My back hurt.
What’s a grandmother to do?
Marcella Lyons, a physical therapy assistant at Cape Cod Healthcare’s Rehabilitation Services has some ideas. And being a grandmother herself (ages 4 and 6), she knows what it’s like.
“You know, every time my grandchildren come over, I’m exhausted. My grandson is really into soccer and he asks me to go up and down and up and down (the field) with him. And, I’m thinking, omigosh, I thought I was in good shape!”
In truth, Lyons is in better shape than many of us grandparents. And she also knows how to move her body, lift a baby, and get up and down off the floor in ways that are less likely to cause injury to her or her grandchildren. Here’s her message: You need to train for the grandkids, just like you might for an athletic event.
“Try to exercise regularly,” she says. “Use it so you don’t lose it.”
Good first steps are to practice getting up and down off the floor (a 10-pound bag of flour is a good substitute for an infant) and resolve to improve your strength and balance before the grandchildren return this summer. (As with all exercise, check with your doctor first to make sure you understand your limitations.) As Lyons said, grandchildren are a great incentive.
“They make me laugh. I want to bring them to the beach. I want to be able to sing with them. It’s up to me to stay fit!”
The most vulnerable areas for grandparents are the neck, shoulders and back, she said.
Here are her tips for protecting your body and being the grandparent who has the stamina and strength to keep up and have fun!
Get down on the floor by using your legs, not your back.
Use these four steps:
- Stand on your strongest leg and then step a yard or so back with your other one. At this point you can hold on to a chair, or put your hands on the thigh of your strong leg for balance.
- Bend your back leg and kneel on it.
- Once you are kneeling on one leg, use your opposite hand to balance on the floor, and go on all fours – like the table position in yoga.
- Just lean back and sit.
To get up, reverse the process.
- Get into table position on your hands and knees.
- Bring the foot of your strong foot forward between your hands, so that you are kneeling on one knee.
- Stand up, being sure to tighten your gluts (a nice word for your butt muscles). Place your hands on your strong knee or a nearby chair for balance.
- Bring your legs together.
- Use your legs and core, not your back. When you pick up a child from the floor, use your leg muscles. Squat down or go to a one-knee position and then make sure the child is as close to your body and your center of gravity as possible. If you’re taking a child out of a car seat, stand as close as you can facing the child and the car seat, then lift and turn. Don’t lean into the car seat by bending at your waist. And, as children get older (and heavier) try to cut down on lifting. “Encourage them to take independent steps, to get in and out of the car by themselves, climb on the potty, get up to the sink,” Lyons said.
- Build strength in your core and your gluts. Try lunges, squats and the plank position in yoga. You can also build your upper body strength with wall push-ups. Start out with just a few and slowly build up. Work on standing farther and farther from the wall. “You can’t go from zero to 60,” Lyons said. “You can’t run a marathon if you’ve never run. It takes persistence.”
- Get into a stretching routine. You want to work on the muscles that help you get up and down. To stretch your hip flexors (the front of your hips), lower back and upper body, try the child pose from yoga. From the table position (all fours), lean back on your ankles while your arms are stretched out in front of you. Spread your knees a little farther apart than your ankles so that your tummy goes between your knees and you can stretch back as far as possible.To stretch your calves, put the toes of one foot against the wall and then take a step back with the other leg. Try to touch the wall with the knee of the foot closest to the wall. Repeat on the other side.
- Work on your endurance. Walk, Cycle. Swim. Push the baby in the stroller. “You know you are getting a good workout if you’re a little out of breath and you’re sweating a little,” Marcella says. And, remember, your body isn’t as young as it once was. “When you’re tired, take a break,” Lyons said. “I’ve heard of grandparents playing with the kids for hours and then complaining, ‘oh, my shoulder.’”