- Pumping Irony -

PUMPING IRONY: Stairway to Heaven

A home improvement project got me thinking about the importance of stairs as we age.

To climb or not to climb as we age? That is the question.

My Lovely Wife and I were chatting the other night about our upstairs bedroom project. The offspring having flown the coop a few years ago, we’ve been debating the pros and cons of creating a master bedroom suite up there.

Among the pros:

• It would be awfully nice to have a second bathroom.

• It would add value to the property.

• We could finally remove the knotty pine paneling in our current place of repose.

And the cons:

• It would be pricey.

• It’s not absolutely necessary to our enjoyment of the house.

• Do we really want to be walking up a flight of stairs to bed when we’re 80-something?

The latter point is one that is often raised when folks enter into Geezerland. And it’s not a new debate. MLW’s grandparents built a home with just that in mind back in the 1950s — a one-floor rambler with wide doorways to facilitate the movement of wheelchairs. And they were prescient. During her last years, Grandma Parker got around the house on four wheels.

So it’s not an imprudent discussion, especially with MLW’s bum knee and her altogether rational preference to avoid people with scalpels who would like to cut it open and replace it with something mechanical. But the more we talk about it, the less the stairs thing enters into the mix. Because, as MLW pointed out just last night, the last thing you want to do as your body ages is to give it excuses for doing less. In other words, if you want to be able to scale a flight of stairs when you’re 80 years old, you shouldn’t stop climbing them when you’re 75.

There’s plenty of research to back her up on this point. Most recently, Gretchen Reynolds in the New York Times reported the results of a landmark study by researchers at the University of Florida’s Institute on Aging showing that regular exercise reduces the chances that even the most frail oldsters will become physically disabled. “For the first time,” the study’s lead author, Marco Pahor, MD, told Reynolds, “we have directly shown that exercise can effectively lessen or prevent the development of physical disability in a population of extremely vulnerable elderly people.”

The participants in Pahor’s study, 1,635 couch potatoes between the ages of 70 and 89 who were tottering on the edge of decrepitude, were simply asked to do some walking and light, lower-body strength training. Thirty months later, they were almost 30 percent less likely to become disabled than a control group. Imagine the gains they would’ve made if they were climbing stairs.

Our upstairs bedroom discussion will continue, I suspect, until one of us gets excited enough to start calling contractors and taking bids. But the whole climbing-the-stairs-at-80 question is now another reason in favor of pulling the trigger on this thing. Besides, the knotty pine is really starting to get to me.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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