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Parents can learn a lot from grandparents

July 18, 2003|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

"Grandma, Grandma, watch me!"

We were at Hagerstown City Park one recent afternoon, and I was surprised how many times I overheard that request.

It came from all directions - the monkey bars, the swings, the seesaws.

The grandparents were only too happy to oblige, oohing and ahhing over how strong, how high, how balanced the little ones were.

Many times they got into the act, giving a boost here or a push there, much to the delight of their little charges.

Spirits were light and smiles were plenty.

A little play can go a long way for both older adults and children because the "use it or lose it" approach applies to both physical and mental well-being, says Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging.

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The council is one of four organizations that is calling on physicians throughout the United States to help solve the prevalence of ill health among older adults by prescribing exercise and other lifestyle changes.

One of the recommendations for better health is playing with grandchildren.

There won't be much arm-twisting on that one, I'll bet.

The organizations are asking doctors to recommend that patients, unless contraindicated, follow the guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine: "Every U.S. adult should accumulate 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week."

Only about 24.5 percent of people in the United States - a quarter of the population - do some form of physical activity on a regular basis, Milner says.

He says research shows that the top three things that get people moving are:

1. Doctors "prescribing" exercise.

2. Friends who exercise. Even as we get older, there is peer pressure.

3. Making it fun, something children seem to figure out naturally.

"The whole experience makes the older adult feel younger and more alive," Milner said. "The happier the family unit is, the more likely it is to have health benefits."

Grandparents often fill in the child-care gap, especially in the summertime, so they have an opportunity to influence the lifestyles of today's youth.

The next wave of osteoporosis is predicted to hit the younger generation because they drink too much soda - not enough milk - and they don't get enough weight-bearing exercise, Milner said.

"Grandparents can have an impact on society by what they do and how they do it," Milner said.

Need some ideas on what to do?

Start by getting your grandchildren off the couch and away from the TV or computer. Go for a walk. Go swimming, bowling. Throw a baseball.

"The objective is to get kids to be more active," Milner said. "Find out what they like to do, and do it with them."

Milner recently asked his 11-year-old daughter to explain the difference between parents and grandparents.

She summed it up in two statements: "Parents are boring. Grandparents are fun."

Then she explained: "Parents are busy working and don't have time to listen to us or play with us. Grandparents have time to play. They don't care if they look silly."

Milner said her explanation bothered him but also inspired him to start spending more time with her and to not take things so seriously.

Yes, there's a lot we parents can learn from grandparents.

Pardon me, I think I need to go back to the park and do more research.




Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at lisap@herald-mail.com.

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