Sweeping the Street: A Lesson From a Crazy, Old, Polish Lady

by Dr. Christopher on June 13, 2010

Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.  ~ Plato

My grandmother is from Poland, right off the boat at age 14.  In our family, we call her “Babci,” Polish for “grandmother.”  She wore what looked like a reverse-skunk look (you know, like a reverse mohawk, but just a reverse-skunk) on her head as she had dyed a big jet-black stripe down the middle of her hair, even up to age 85.  She cleaned and cooked all day at her home and at ours, never taking a break.  I even used to watch her sweep the street for us.  Friends would often ask me what she was doing.  “It looks like she is sweeping the street.”  “Oh…why?”  “I don’t know.”  Babci lived alone, but visited often because as she’d say “who else is going to take care of you?”  Babci was happy as long as she could cook and clean for her family.

One day, there was a blizzard.  She spent three hours shovelling snow.  Watching television that night, she went to go to the bathroom.  Next thing I know, my father and I get a call from her landlord that her television was on all night.  She had fallen in the bathroom.  The following day, she regained consciousness, but her face was swollen.  She had a heart attack/stroke and her heart could no longer move the blood through her body.  She could hardly walk.

Over the next 15 months, she gradually lost her ability to move not only her legs, but also her arms and mouth.  She couldn’t take care of herself to the point where she couldn’t go to the bathroom without assistance.  She got sores on her butt from sitting for too long, swelling in her legs from not moving them, and often choked on food because of her throat’s inability to swallow.  As her movement continued to worsen, she became more and more depressed until she asked the visiting nurse on each visit for sleeping pills so she wouldn’t have to deal with it any longer.  Movement was her life, and she lost the ability to move, and finally, to live. 

Movement is Life

Life necessitates movement.  It is a sign that life exists in any body and is an absolute requirement for life to function.  Our bodies require movement so that:

  • blood can carry nutrients throughout the body (our arteries can use gravity to push blood, our veins and lymphatic system literally use muscular contraction to move fluids)
  • nerves can carry impulses, or messages, from the brain to the body and back again
  • our digestive system can transfer food from our mouth through our stomach, intestines, squeezing and absorbing nutrients from it before excretion
  • our bones and muscles maintain their ability to move, thus allowing us to perform (these parts of a our body are very dependent on the “use it or lose it” principle)

Using our bones and muscles to move our bodies helps stimulate the rest of our body, ensuring that movement continues in all body systems in an efficient manner.

Babci did the best she could from the traditions her parents and grandparents taught her how to live.  She didn’t need to exercise in a conventional manner at a gym because she worked, cleaned, and cooked all day.  That brought her to age 87.  She didn’t challenge her body in the form of lifting weights or raising her heart rate.  What if she lived the life she was taught in addition to challenging her body’s ability to build muscle and bone, pushing her heart to pump a little harder and faster, and stimulating more brain connections through moving heavy things?  Could her life have ended any differently?


The latest epidemiological research says that it would end differently.  The human body can last to age 120 when treated properly.  She made it 75% of the way to her full lifespan.  Most people are too scared to think about living that old.  “I don’t want to live that long” is a common reply.  If we can make it to 120 with our health and wealth to support us, and we still have a purpose for getting up every morning, why not?  Life ends gently for people who take care of their bodies.  Babci would have likely lived a longer life to do that which she loves, working, cleaning, and cooking, and have sufferred less in the end for it.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from Babci, she did well in life because she never stopped (MOVE!).  I also learned that maybe she could have lived longer and happier if she challenged her body more intensely (EXERCISE!).  Although Babci danced until she was 75, she didn’t push her body beyond that, and in the end, lack of exercise caused her to lose the ability to fulfill her purpose.  To outlive our grandmothers, we must understand what our body requires to express health and implement that knowlege by giving it what it needs, movement being one of a few core essential nutrients for health.   Most of us in this age understand the benefits of exercise, but moving the rest of the day is just as important too.  So, is your street dirty?

If your dog is fat, you’re not getting enough exercise.  ~ Author Unknown

ACTION STEPS to implement movement into other areas of our lives:

1.  Number 1 for a reason: When not moving…Move.  As much as possible.  Squat.  Reach.  Wiggle.  If you can bend your body in a specific way, do it.  Show a friend.
2.  Work.  Do your job with vigor.  Desk job?  Get up at least every half hour to get some water or better yet, get a stand-up desk.
3.  Play.  Arm wrestle.  Throw a football.  Race your children.  Play tag.  Or even dodgeball!  Show off your fastball.  Don’t aim for your kids’ heads though.
4.  Housework.  Fight over who gets to do the chores.  Stop hiring people to clean your house or mow your lawn and do it yourself.  Don’t let your kids shovel the snow, you do it!
5.  Shopping?  Park far away.  Don’t take the escalator, use the stairs.
6.  Walk the dog; she will thank you for it.
7.  Hobbies?  Plant some vegetables.  Build something.  Play the drums.  Make a delicious dinner.
8.  Dance when you’re happy, or even when you’re sad.  It will make you happy.  Try the funky chicken.  It works.
9.  Need some affection?  Be physical.  Hug everybody, squeeze tightly.  Grab someone someone’ s butt cheek (someone you know of course!).  Wrestle.  Have sex often.
10.  Choose to enjoy the task.  Breathe and be present.

Dr. Christopher Stepien is a chiropractor, chronic pain specialist, and A.R.T. provider, and clinic director of the Barefoot Rehabilitation Clinic in Morristown, NJ.  He practices out of Crossfit Morristown.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Brian June 13, 2010 at 11:37 pm

Another great post, I truly enjoy reading these. I just spoke to my grandmother because this post made me think about how lucky I am to still have one.

“If your dog is fat, you’re not getting enough exercise.”- If your significant other walks around with a smile on her/his face; there’s someone else.[(?) Call Bartlett?]

Keep it up Steppy–no pun intended– reading this brings joy to many people or, at least, me.

Chris June 14, 2010 at 11:18 am

If only one person is inspired, it is worth it. Love you buddy.

Dougie June 14, 2010 at 10:27 pm

Chris-
great post. I enjoed the story about your grandmother. My Pop, who lived with us in Brooklyn, was the same way. He was always sweeping, shoveling and MOVING. He closed his eyes one day and never woke up ( in my opinion the best way to go). But as my mother and Aunt always say he was constantly keeping himself busy. Great message and very insightful. Look forward to seeing you soon. Thanks for being such a positive influence in my life buddy.

Dougie

Chris June 15, 2010 at 8:45 am

Grateful you enjoyed it Doug. I agree, the best way to go is without sufferring. It is as if your Pop lived a fulfilling, purposeful life and simply chose at that time, “OK, I’ve lived a good life, I’m out,” instead of choosing to disrespect his body and allowing his body to set the tone for the end of his life. He is a great example for you and I.

“Thanks for being such a positive influence in my life buddy.” – same to you Doug.

Pat June 17, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Polish people are great! I like the idea of a stand-up desk. Good stuff man.

Chris June 17, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Haha, I’m glad you like Polish people Pat. We can be slow sometimes, but we make up for it in heart. Thanks for commenting!

Tamara Buszko June 26, 2010 at 9:36 am

You are truly and inspiration!! I cant wait to see what you post next!!

Dee July 7, 2010 at 9:06 am

Chris,
You just always amaze me. What a great tribute to your grandmother. My cat is getting fat. So, my question is should “I” move more or should Sloan? Love you Chris. Keep up the great work. You are one person that I will always admire.

Chris July 7, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Thanks Tamara!

Chris July 7, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Thank you Dee! Appreciate the kind words! And let some mice loose in your home … that should do the trick! Haha.

Dee July 8, 2010 at 6:11 pm

I don’t like mice! Besides, he would just sit on them and cry for me to get rid of them or worse “eat them”. Lately he has been getting exercise. Unfortunately for me it is between 3am & 5am. That is when he gets his toys and chases/carries them around the hall or on/off the bed. But he is my “Jude”.

Jeannine October 24, 2011 at 12:21 pm

What a great thought. We would like to tell you thanks for sharing your idea’s. I will for sure +1 your article.
Jeannine recently posted..Deck Cleaning Before and After

Dr. Christopher October 24, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Appreciate you Jeannine!

Anna November 11, 2011 at 2:26 pm

It’s “babcia”, not “babci”! Babcia means “grandmother”. ; )

Dr. Christopher November 11, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Thank you Anna. My Babcia or father never corrected me.

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