What Joy Loverde wants you to know about getting your parents to exercise

Mom on the treadmillby Joy Loverde

Mom and her husband, Bill lived in Florida, far away from family for twenty years. Their typical weekly routine went something like this…

Upon waking, immediately turn on the television in the living room, make breakfast (cereal for Bill, coffee and donuts for Mom), sit in front of the television and eat breakfast, get up and put the breakfast dishes away, sit back down and watch television until noon, get up and make lunch, eat lunch in front of the television, get up and put the lunch dishes away, head for the bedroom for an afternoon nap, sleep until 4 pm, wake up and turn on the television immediately, after several hours get up to make dinner, eat dinner at the dining room table with the television on, clear the dinner dishes, head back to the living room to watch television, turn off the television around 10 pm and head for bed.

If I said that they each took about one hundred steps in a day it would be a stretch. I saw the writing on the wall. Sooner rather than later they would both lose their ability to be independent and mobile; and yet they left me no opening for a conversation about exercise. They would not hear of it. Every so often when I would visit them I would gently nudge Mom and ask if she wanted to go for a stroll with me. She would say yes, and quickly regret it about 5 minutes into the walk. She could hardly move a muscle. Her breathing was labored.

Eventually, Mom was forced to move back to Chicago after twenty years in Florida. It was her decision. Bill had a stroke and Mom knew she could not manage without the help of family. BTW… if you are in the process of moving a parent long-distance, you may be interested in reading my blog series about moving a parent long-distance. It’s filled with insights and tips.

Mom moved into the same apartment building as me and my husband, a one-bedroom condo, and Bill landed in assisted living until his death two months later. Mom was a physical and emotional wreck. She was at least fifty pounds over-weight, and was falling regularly. Again I saw the writing on the wall; but this time I did not take “no exercise” for an answer. I told her that it was not an option if she wanted to live with us. That statement got Mom’s attention big time.

The next step in engaging Mom in this whole new world of exercise was to give her a tour of the fitness room. She had NEVER stepped foot in a gym before.  We walked over to the treadmill (and ignored the other equipment). I did a quick demonstration on the lowest setting possible. That seemed to ease her mind. We spent about thirty minutes in the fitness room observing people young and old working out. That was enough for day one.

That night before bedtime, I told Mom that I would be waiting for her morning call to head down to the fitness room. In other words, it is up to her (not me) to be motivated to call me. That was step two.

It is now three years later and Mom has her life back. A four-day a week, one-mile workout on the treadmill has changed her life. Today, Mom is thirty pound lighter. Her legs are strong. Her breathing is steady. After her morning workout, she is known to get on the city bus alone and head to Macy’s and spend three hours shopping and walking around before she heads home for her afternoon nap.

So listen up… getting a parent to exercise takes nothing less than a well thought out strategy. Follow these guidelines and you have a better chance of being successful in motivating them to get up and move.

  1. Take a look at your own lifestyle before you broach the subject. If you are not exercising on a regular basis they will point that out and ask why should they?
  2. Focus exercise-related conversations around the subject of functional fitness. This helps to connect the dots between exercise and independence. (It took about a year before my Mom realized that she was shopping on her own because of her treadmill routine.)
  3. Invite parents on a tour of a gym they plan to use. Ideally you will find a fitness center that is geared for the 50-plus crowd. I highly recommend Fitness55 (they are opening new gyms across the country).
  4. On the gym tour, show them only the equipment they say they like. If they are into walking, show them the treadmill. If they are bikers or swimmers, show them the bikes or the pool. Leave the rest behind for now otherwise the information becomes overwhelming.
  5. If you do not live nearby, the following tip is perhaps the most difficult to achieve and the most important one. Without a doubt, Mom is successful working out every day because I am her workout buddy. She is accountable to herself first, and then to me. She knows that I am waiting for her call every morning. If you are not willing or unable to be a partner in fitness, who is?
  6. If your parents live with you, you can let them know that not exercising is not an option. As I mentioned earlier in this blog, this statement struck a chord with my Mom. When I said to her that the lifestyle of my family is one of healthy eating and daily exercising and that if she wanted to live with us she would have to commit to our way of living or live somewhere else.  Mom instantly knew that I meant business.
  7. From day one, start bragging to anyone who is within earshot of your parent. This has been the greatest strategy of all. Mom is now a role model for people young and old, and couldn’t quit her routine if she wanted to. Bragging to others about how well Mom is doing works like a charm. I just keep on bragging.


It’s never too late to get started talking about getting parents into an exercise routine. Anything they do regarding their workout is better than nothing. Today, Mom is 87 years old and stronger than ever. I sincerely hope you stop at nothing to get your parents up and moving.

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