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  • Writer's pictureRichard Portugal

A Self Fulfilling Prophecy?

There are two types of aging, chronological and psychological. Chronologically,

we are finite beings of which time is the great arbitrator. We know not how much

time we are allotted, but we know the march of time is inevitable. That is a

chronological fact with which we all live and die. Barring disease or accident, we

have approximately eight decades to smell a summer’s flower, make a snow angel

or climb the highest peak in the Himalayans’ Mountains. We breath, we play, we

work and we age; it is the time for us to make the most of the time!

Psychological aging presents a very different dynamic. During the 1930’s, a

traumatic period for our nation, Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed that we have

nothing to fear, but fear itself! It is a declaration that neatly defines psychological


My clients are seniors ranging from the late fifties to the early nineties, from

healthy to disease afflicted, from active to the inactive. Yet, they are not defined

by their chronological ages, but by their self-concept. Some approach aging as

simply another of life’s challenges-- a Parkinson’s client exercises to develop her

capacity, rather than accept her limitations; a client with no knee cartilage

struggles into the proper position to exercise his upper body; an eighty-nine year

old stroke victim works tirelessly to regain the use of his impacted side; a client

with a severe shoulder separation accepts the hard work necessary to regain

almost total range of motion; a ninety year old assiduously performs her balance

exercises and, as a result, dances unimpeded to the big band sound of her youth.

There exists another group of seniors who have accepted age’s limitations. They

have their disabilities, from painful knees and shoulders to heart pacers and fused

spines. They are not necessarily old in years, but have made themselves old in

life. They are confined by fears. They are afraid of falling, of losing their strength,

of losing their balance; they protect themselves by shuffling rather than walking

with a normal stride, by looking down rather than ahead, by groping for a wall

rather than swinging their arms in a normal gait. They are defined by a fear of

incapacity and therefore make themselves incapable. Yes, they are on

medications which can cause dizziness; yes, their knees are painful; yes they have

a variety of cardiac or pulmonary problems; yes, they suffer from diabetes; yes,

they can stumble; yes, they can fall. But their fears go beyond their very real

medical and physical issues to the realm of self-paralysis. They are no longer

limited by their limitations, but by their fears; they have become old beyond their

chronological age and old beyond their physical limitations.

Each of my clients inevitably has photographs recording their lives which I view

with much interest and enthusiasm. From a little girl practicing ballet to a boy on

his sled, to a honeymoon picture or a first vacation, to their child’s first

communion or their grandson’s bar mitzvah—these pictures display a person in

their prime, strong, vital, living life with color in their cheeks and a full head of

hair. These pictures display people who have a will to carve their lives from time’s

block of wood; to sculpture, create and vibrate with life. There is an inevitable

progression of course: their skin gets paler, their hair thinner, their posture

slightly slouched-- but they are still vibrant people. They need to simply reengage

with their photographs; to get beyond their fears, to reignite their passion to

succeed, to rekindle their belief in their own bodies.

Nothing can defeat fear like building the confidence to overcome that fear. This

seems to state the obvious, but the obvious takes work. To regain the strength of

their youth, or at least to reverse the frailty of age, muscles must be stressed and

muscle memory reinvigorated. Exercise for seniors is such an easy way to

overcome their fears. By physically strengthening their bodies, they reverse the

slide into weakness: hand grips become stronger, arm muscles grow and chest,

back and legs more readily accept the challenges of age and gravity. Strength

imparts a wonderful transformation—there is a newfound confidence that your

body can support your activities of daily living. Rising and sitting in a chair,

walking, turning and maintaining balance all are accomplished with a greater

confidence. Increased strength is a great enabler of increased health and a great

inhibitor to fear and fragility. To paraphrase Franklin Roosevelt, we have nothing

to fear, but a loss of confidence. Gain strength and gain confidence!

All of my clients are seniors, but they can all be younger. Their muscles yearn to

remember the thrill of bounding off a curb and springing away on powerful legs;

climbing a tree and swinging effortlessly from its limb; swimming with long arm

strokes and splashing feet; a bicycle skidding to a stop with two strong legs firmly

planted on the ground; walking in the city and lithely stepping off and onto a

sidewalk; climbing stairs without a thought of an elevator; running for a bus and

hailing a taxi; going to a ballgame and climbing to your seat while still having

sufficient breath to cheer (or boo) your team; standing in the kitchen and

successfully reaching for a heavy platter on the top shelf; throwing a ball with

your granddaughter; getting down on the floor and rising by yourself.

All of my clients are seniors, but they can all benefit from the dignity and

independence that muscular strength bestows. All it takes is but a glance at some

old photographs and the determination to reawaken the strength within us all!

Copyright © 2018 Richard J. Portugal All rights reserved.

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