The following is an illustration as to how I came to realise that maintaining my fitness is important as I grow older, both in terms of wellbeing and in terms of being there for my grandchildren.

When we were all a bit younger, accompanying primary school trips was an effort but nevertheless I attended and generally enjoyed them. College has seen less of these (thank goodness) but the other day my granddaughter phoned from school asking if I could attend one – as out of 28 girls, only one parent had offered to supervise. This particular day my Grandparents Raising Grandchildren meeting was scheduled, so I said I was otherwise engaged. With that she promptly put her teacher on the telephone who informed me that unless I could come they would have to cancel. So I agreed to forgo my meeting and go with them.

The teacher then went on to explain that they would be climbing the headlands above a beach to do sketching.

The word “headlands‟ jumped down the telephone line and seemed to reverberate around the room.

This sounded steep, high and quite a climb.

I am 64 and asthmatic. These strenuous words almost bought on an asthma attack right then and there! But I had agreed.  That night I woke every hour on the hour from 1 to 5 a.m. with thoughts of climbing Everest entrenched in my mind.

The day dawned fine and sunny so this was indeed a bonus.  It was not raining, but then again if it had been, they may have cancelled and I could retreat into the non-strenuous Grandparents Raising Grandchildren meeting!  Ha, no such luck. So off I set with asthma inhaler, spacer and water in my backpack.

The girls were typical 14 year olds – full of energy and walked at a cracking pace. We rounded the corner and there before me was my Everest. A narrow path rose vertically and evilly snaked to the right, obscuring goodness know what.

Concerned thoughts raced through my mind: heart attacks, asthma attacks, and the potential need for calling a rescue helicopter. Suddenly loud and clear I could hear that Kenny Rogers song The Gambler singing loudly in my mind: “know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em” This was enough for me – I took his advice!

The teacher meantime must have seen the look on my face (colour had drained at this point) and kindly said: “you stay down here and I will take all the girls”. So I had a peaceful hour sitting in the sun on the sand watching the sea – something far more becoming for this granny. And I did not need to puff on my inhaler once.

Next time I will make sure I know where we are going before agreeing to anything! Know your limits.

This whole scenario made me stop and think.  Here I was – busy, running around after the grandchildren and putting myself last. Time to act! So with great trepidation I got a Green Prescription from my Doctor – this enabled me to join a gym at a discounted rate. I was extremely worried that there would be all these fit, young gym bunnies there and I would have been the oldest person. Not so! They had a seniors group. The regime starts up with very short exercises: five sit up and downs on a chair, five lift ups of what looked like a broom handle, five press-ups standing against a wall. The tread mill – well what can I say, I nearly fell off, but only two minutes was required.  I was amazed at how quickly these numbers increased to 50+, then 100+, and the tread mill: I now can do 20 minutes, yes I can do it! Better still I was also able to do these exercises at home too, as only basic equipment is needed and I can walk instead of using the car.

With renewed vigour, very soon I shall be volunteering for every school trip going and Kenny Rogers song will be banished from my thoughts.

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Diane Vivian is the founding member and chair of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust NZ. When in 1997, Diane Vivian took over the care of her small, traumatised grandchildren, she could not believe the stress she encountered. Setting about to discover what help or support was available in 1999, she found there was none! The organisation formed to meet this need salutes all Grandparents/kin who have taken in Grand/kin children and put the needs of those precious ones before their own.

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