Exercise, Now and Then

By: A.C.

I don’t know if it’s the age I am at, or if my memory is only selecting memories of my growing–up in Lanarkshire.

I noticed today ( 1 April) a story on disability  and forms of exercise for those with chronic diseases. 

As regular readers will know, my mother had Polio, and she was in a calliper and then a wheelchair in later life. In the 50’s & 60’s,  this was not uncommon, and the British Polio Fellowship was, and still is a solid charity & organisation. Nowadays the BPF is also helping people understand Post–Polio Syndrome.

My mother used to feel acutely sorry for those who were less able than her. Or those who had a life–threatening disease, for which there seemed no good outcome. She was always confident that she had contracted Polio, and that was the end of it. It could do no further harm and her condition of being paralysed was static. I would advise anyone who has had Polio, especially dating from the 50’s epidemics, to study the BPF’s pages.

So in that frame of mind, my mother would take advice from her physiotherapists, doctors and the BPF and do Chairobics, long before it was ever called that.  As I remember, she used a combination of sitting down exercises, like one would have seen on the playing fields in those mass exercise films, and a more ‘newish’ exercise which came from pilots in the war where they used a form of early pilates or callisthenics. 

She was also a swimmer, and took part in the Stoke Mandeville Games annually, or the local Scottish BPF/ Disabled Games every year. How she got into swimming is probably the neatest testament to “you will never know if you do not try”.

I was about 6 years old, and we were on a bus, as we passed by a local swimming pool.  I was already taking tentative steps in swimming, but I asked my mother why she was not able to go in the water. She said “because it would be dangerous for me to go swimming, I might drown”.   Like many children, I asked a simple question “why would you drown if you can float?”

A bit flummoxed by a child’s logic, my mother then started to make enquiries, in her capacity as BPF group secretary, and helped form a special swimming group, at a very off –peak time on a Saturday evening, for the local polio club.

That cub went on to win medal after medal at Stoke Mandeville, when they represented Scotland.

Coupled with the chairobics, and the swimming until she could no longer be manoeuvred into the pool, she stayed very active and positive  until she died in her mid-70’s.

I may add that one of her favourite anecdotes was the immense power of her torso, which seemed to be all muscle. She would go for occasional check–ups at the hospital, and on one occasion, being wheeled in to the clinician’s room with its examination couch, the clinician went for a nurse and and sling/ambulatory lift.  On his return he was amazed to see her sitting on the examination bed. This was explained as being no more than a simple a ‘bench press’ where skill, experience and strength  allowed her to swing herself up onto the couch.  The clinician was so impressed he took photographs of my mother’s bulging biceps and muscle–bound torso. 

I can testify to the seeming power of those muscles, as she had that mystical power to enable one to have  an out of body and time experience,  which involved traveling over the back of the couch,  as she knocked me into the middle of next week, when she administered summary justice.  

So staying fit in some ways is not impossible. Though for many, lateral thinking on how to manage exercise will be needed, and I would advocate taking good advice. 

So these stories of ‘new’ initiatives by healthcare workers are not new; their work is just part of a long and maybe forgotten involvement by their colleagues in decades past who advocated similar exercise.

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