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Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative and the Future of Aging

By Mary Otte

On March 4th, Michelle Obama was the featured guest on a Google+ Fireside Hangout hosted by talk show host Kelly Ripa, to kick off the third anniversary of the FLOTUS’ Let’s Move! initiative and celebrate its tangible success in engaging our nation’s children in being more active and eating more healthily.

Needless to say, engaging kids means that people of all ages are getting involved, from boomer parents to grandparents and other senior friends and family. Consider for a moment, though, the true impact of a healthy nation. Though the immediate crisis in taking care of a nation that has aged and is yet aging rapidly may be marginally impacted by a program focused on youth, the future of aging is potentially brighter, as healthier school lunches, creative ways to get active and nutritional education will inevitably cut down on healthcare costs in the long run.

Transitioning into better health is not an overnight process, for individuals or a healthy health system, but taking these steps and sticking with them are crucial. In a recent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette titled “Boomers Live Longer, but Sicker than Parents,” it was reported that, “Despite a growing number of health clubs and diet and exercise trends, baby boomers aren’t nearly as healthy as their parents were” at the same age. Siting higher instances of obesity, diabetes and the use of mobility devices, it went on to say that, “Lousy health habits appear to be the chief reason why.”

Health clubs and fad diets, however, are not anywhere near the focus of Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative. In fact, weight itself has intentionally never been talked about in the Obama household. They surround themselves with healthy foods, remove whatever temptations they can and make sure to get in a lot of play. There are bowls of apples—the Obamas’ go to power food—in every room of the White House.

“People can’t help how they look, but we want everyone in this country to be healthy,” said Mrs. Obama, emphasizing our need to really communicate with the children in our lives and to make this an inter-generational effort. Often kids respect grandparents, and with some extra prompting from parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents, they’ll find just as much fun outdoors as plopped down with a tablet or iPhone. Not to mention the fun boomers and golden agers have interacting with kids and that heart health will be improved for all! Senior and boomer fitness will always be important for holistic health.

Other highlights from the talk included:

     
  • An emphasis on the need to get creative. Restricted space for outdoor recess and communities where it just isn’t safe to play outside were tackled with the need to go grassroots in our solutions. “We have to understand that daily movement is not an option,” stressed Mrs. Obama. “It’s not about mastering a sport, but just being encouraged, even for taking a walk.”
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  • Daily activities are critical. “We’re going to get all public schools moving in this country, that’s our goal.” From running in place and doing jumping jacks to playful dance (Mrs. Obama’s favorite is “the Dougie,” which she gladly demonstrated). The idea is to just get our kids in the habit of moving around. “Get out, laugh, breathe hard,” she advised.
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  • Making sure kids understand why eating the fruits and veggies on their plates and even gradual implementation starting with a few bites then moving up as they get used to the unprocessed flavors and notice the positive changes in how they feel was another goal. “Help them understand what it does for their bodies and cognitive health rather than just tell them they have to eat them… They need to understand what food really means to them. Make sure that people know what soda does to the body and what a healthy plate looks like.”
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  • Mrs. Obama also suggested that parents call the USDA for assistance if the nutrition standards that have become requirements at all schools aren’t yet being applied at their children’s schools.

Building a healthy nation of persons who will age better than previous generations, especially as life expectancy continues to grow, is an encouraging vision. Reduction in healthcare costs and a greater prospect of government programs also becoming healthier sound great. But there are many ways that the principles of Let’s Move! can be applied in the now for the betterment of not only our kids health, but that of our own, our parents’ and our grandparents’.

As the third Let’s Move! tour launches and kids and parents are bound to be engaged, think about how this can translate into both your own health and that of Grandma and Grandpa. When competition and superficiality are removed from the focus, taking a walk with a grandparent is a great accomplishment, even if kids have to slow down a little so Grandma can keep up.

In my own life, though I had the advantage of growing up on a farm, chores I remember as chores, berry picking as sticky sweetness and pocket cash, but the walks that I’d take with my grandma, aunt, mom and the occasional cousin or two are some of my best memories and also fostered a love of nature walks that is as much a part of my being as favorite colors and musical genres. Grandma’s quiet wisdom about fern fronds, tree frogs and other critters created a magic world around us as we strolled, just as stories of how neighborhoods may have once looked, the names of local flora and fauna, and stories of their own childhood will resonate and stick with your own children—and also increase the health and happiness of a beloved senior or grandparent in your family’s life.

As Mrs Obama said during the hangout, “We’ve got to worry about every member of our family.” Though for full disclosure, she was talking about the family dog at the time, still, there you have it, one final idea on staying fit—get active with your pet.