When Sylvia L., 83, walks, she compares herself to “The Little Engine that Could.”
Despite several recent health setbacks—a burst abscess and double pneumonia, which both led to several month hospital stays—she is determined to make it to her 17-year-old grandson’s high school and college graduations.
“I just say, I’m going to do this. I can do it, I can do it, I can do it and that’s what I say,” says Sylvia.
This summer, having never counted her steps before and having learned about Fitbit trackers from a friend, she set a goal of walking 10,000 steps a day. At the beginning, just doing 1,000 steps with the help of her walker was a struggle. She paced up and down the hallways of her senior housing building and made rings around a ping pong table in the lobby.
“Now a thousand is nothing,” says Sylvia. “I can do a thousand before I go to work.”
Sylvia moved on to roaming the blocks of her Bronx neighborhood and has just started reaching a nearby park. Home attendants in the area began telling their charges to follow her example. Middle-aged people stopped to relate to their own parents.
“I’m walking the steps, and I show them the Fitbit [tracker] and say look we’re up to 5,000! They say ‘Huh?!’ and they ask, how old are you? I say 83. They say my mother is 75 and she wouldn’t do that if her life depended on it. Or my mother is in her 80s and she would be here walking with you if she were nearby,” says Sylvia. “I’m not the only one my age doing things like this.”
Sylvia is one of 20 inspiring New Yorkers in their 80s being followed by the Exceeding Expectations project at the Columbia Aging Center. The video (above) of her journey to 10,000 steps a day was produced as a part of the project.
By the beginning of August, Sylvia walked 9,000 steps in one day. She is aiming to reach her goal by the end of the summer or early fall.
“I just want to see what’s it like to say that I’ve walked ten thousand steps,” says Sylvia. “I know that sounds crazy.”
Sylvia has a history of defying expectations. She recently returned to work—three days a week at a psychiatric center. She also sits on seven political and advocacy committees.
She travels alone with her walker on trains from New York City to the state capitol in Albany and has slept over in a legislative office building to advocate for mental health legislation.
Sylvia says her time with her Fitbit Charge 2 is all about taking care of herself and being there for her grandson. Purchasing it was a financial stretch, but she believes it is well worth it.
“I never would have paid what I paid for this. I’m not sorry, it tells you your heartbeat. It tells you when to slow down. In the morning, it tells you ‘Time to go.’ I am not sorry. Sometimes you have to do something for you. If it’s going to make your life better, why not.”
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This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.