It’s never too late to start exercising, and you don't have to take up marathon running to make a difference. Helen Gent talks to four older people who’ve discovered the joys of exercise and have never felt better.
- Read Deirdre's story
- Read Flo's story
- Read Eric's story
- Read Brenda's story
- Hear exercise tips from Martina Navratilova
The current government guidelines recommend that older people aged 65 or over, who are generally fit and have no health conditions that limit their mobility, do 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic exercise a week. This could include brisk walking or ballroom dancing.
The thought of exercise can sound daunting if you're not used to it, but the people we talked to found it wasn't as tough as they expected, and they've had some amazing benefits.
Deirdre Kimbell, 71, from London, is a member of her local gym and runs regularly. She ran with the Olympic flame after being nominated by her grand-daughter, Rosie.
'As I approached 70, I reflected on the next 20 years and how I’d like to be. I’ve been widowed twice. My first husband died of a heart attack at 53, and my second husband died of cancer.
'I'd been running off and on for years but I started doing longer distances. I just kept running a little further each time. I’d tell myself "if I really push myself, I can go further". I built up bit by bit, and now I run 6km twice a week.
'There’s nothing magical or noble about it. I’m basically lazy and there are mornings when I wake up and think I can’t be bothered. But I go for a run and afterwards I feel much better. I also cycle everywhere because I don’t have a car.
'I used to have high blood pressure. It took about a year, but now it’s right down. I’ve lost 3 stone through exercise and dieting. I also have lots more energy now. In fact, I have energy overdose.
'I’m not planning on giving up exercise. When I was 60 I thought: "When I’m 70 I want to be able to do step aerobics." And I did. And I recently went to a zumba class. I loved it.'
The gym queen
Flo Marshall, 69, from Tyne & Wear, goes to Curves, a ladies-only gym, four times a week.
'Three years ago my husband had a heart attack. We both thought we were pretty healthy so that was a real wake-up call. After his bypass, my hairdresser told me about Curves.
'It only takes 30 minutes. There are 10 different machines that work all the muscles in your body. You build up strength and get a cardiovascular workout at the same time.
'The last time I was in a gym was when I was about 17. I was nervous but the staff soon put me at my ease. Now I go up to new people and tell them how much they’re going to love it.
'It’s helped my arthritis. I used to have difficulty getting up the stairs, but after about five months I could go up them without any trouble. The pain has improved a huge amount, too.
'It’s amazing the amount of people my age who won’t exercise. They say things like "I don’t know why you’re bothering. We’re old, we may as well just give up." That really gets my back up – I’m going to keep going just to prove them wrong.'
Eric Bagshaw [top], 73, from Chesterfield, plays in an over-65 football team and is also a regular walker.
'When I play football I feel like I’m 6 years old again. In May 2006 I spotted an ad for a ‘walking football’ group and my wife, Judy, said I should give it a go.
'I got puffed out after 10 minutes. And even though we were only walking, I ached a bit to start with. But as the weeks went by, I could feel myself getting stronger. It’s amazing how you can build up your fitness level.
'I loved it so much that after the course finished, we set up our own proper 6-a-side team. Four of us are in our 70s, and one bloke has an artificial hip. I’m in goal now because I’m the oldest.
'When I went for my annual MOT my doctor was amazed. My cholesterol and blood pressure, which used to be high, were down to normal. I’d been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes the previous year, and there was no sign of that. Plus I’d lost nearly 2 stone.
'Exercise has given me new life. To get to get your 70s and be able to do this is just amazing. I feel 40. I feel absolutely brilliant.'
The DVD star
Brenda Turner, 75, from the West Midlands, goes to a Move It Or Lose It class once a week. She also starred in one of the club’s DVDs, which she uses at home.
'I was getting a bit of an old croc. I have rheumatoid arthritis. I needed an electric carving knife to cut the bread and I had special adaptors on the taps. After my husband died in January 2009, I decided to get myself sorted out.
'I saw the ad for the class in my local paper. You use light dumbbells, tubes and hoops to exercise different parts of your body and you can do it sitting down if you need to – we had one person in our group with multiple sclerosis.
'After about 5 months I was able to cut bread without the electric knife and after 6 months, I started doing the exercises at home with the DVD.
'Now I know them off by heart, I do them while I’m watching TV. It’s just 30 minutes, two or three times a week.
'I also joined a walking club. The first time I did a 50-minute walk, I found it hard going – now I’m the one who’s out in front. We walk once a week for about 2 hours now.
'Fifteen months ago, my rheumatologist discharged me from hospital. I don’t need steroid injections anymore, and I don’t get any pain. I’ve got bags of energy and my social life has never been better.'