Imagine This Antidote To An Aging Parent’s Depression

Forbes 02/07/2015 by Carolyn Rosenblatt

“I’ve felt it’s either get out and do something or sit at home and feel sorry for myself. So if I ever start feeling sorry for myself, I put my shoes on and take a little run somewhere.”

These are the words of 80 year old Anne Garrett, who set a pending American record of 2:13:23 in her 80-84 age group at the Surf City USA Half Marathon in Huntington Beach California. As reported in Runner’s World & Running, Ms. Garrett tells us that “[Running has] made me more aware of who I am and it has helped me not to feel sorry for myself, not to get depressed,” Garrett said.

Running became a way of dealing with the stress of a way of dealing with the stress of her husband’s illness. He suffered from Alzheimer’s for seven years. After he died in 2011, Anne found that running helped her cope with her grief.

She started race walking in her early sixties as a way to spend time with her daughter. On her 72nd birthday, she intended to race walk a half marathon, but ended up running it instead and taking first place in her age group. She’s been at it ever since.

She recounts the benefits of how running takes the pain out of aging, and how running makes her feel young in her mind. She loves passing other runners and helping younger people see what an older person is capable of doing. And this is not someone who was a lifelong athlete. She grew up in a small village in Ireland where she walked out of necessity to get places. She says she wasn’t good at sports in school. Maybe this means that what you do when you’re young doesn’t necessarily predict what you’ll do as you age.

I know a lot of Boomers who have an aging parent that suffers from depression. It is often dismissed, under treated or not taken seriously. Maybe the aging parent gets a dose of Prozac and it doesn’t seem to do any good. Some people are told, “You’re just getting old” when they say the medication isn’t doing anything for them. What’s worth noting about depression is that it is not a normal part of aging. We can do something to make it better.

Anne Garrett has figured out something I wish everyone knew: exercise, particularly the kind that gets you sweaty, is an excellent antidote to depression. I can personally attest to this. I think running saved my life as a younger person when I went through a major episode of depression myself. I was no marathoner, believe me. I just ran a mile or a few nearly every day when I was struggling to get through that dark time. It made all the difference. Something happens to your mind when you work your body. Maybe it’s the feel good hormones, endorphins. Maybe it’s just moving itself, rather than sitting and crying. I can’t be sure but I do know I was on very shaky ground and running was like an antidepressant without any nasty side effects. It worked right away and it worked every day. It’s not a cure, but it gets you through it.

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As I write about healthy aging here, I did want to share Anne Garrett’s story with you. She knows running helped her with a weight problem, stress of her husband’s illness and grief after he passed away. Imagine your aging loved one using exercise instead of medication or along with it to help with these three things. Most of us struggle in some way with weight, all of us have stress and all of us at some point have to cope with grief. A fast walk will do if running is not an option. And if your aging parent has bad knees, back or other joints that make walking difficult think about this: you can actually work up a sweat with some hand weights or an exercise band sitting in a chair. Why not suggest it? Why not consider it yourself?

Keep in your mind that image of 80 year old Anne Garrett dusting her fellow runners as she crossed the finish line. If we can aim for being just a little bit more like her, I think we’ll all do better with the stress of life.

Until next time,

Carolyn Rosenblatt

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Posted on February 7, 2015, in Publications of Interest and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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