Why Britain’s over 50s are fitter than ever!
From cheerleading to Bollywood dancing, there’s been an explosion in ‘silver’ exercise classes.
In fact she’s now Britain’s oldest triathlete with four Ironman races under her belt – that’s a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run. Not bad for a 74-year-old.
The days when getting older meant winding down and putting your feet up have been sharply elbowed out by today’s 50-pluses. For, in growing numbers, older women are sportier than ever before. From aerobics and trampolining, to Zumba and Tango, Pilates, yoga and Tai Chi, oldies, clad in the latest athleisure, are taking over the gym.
According to Sport England the biggest increase in sports participation in the past decade has been among the 45-54 age group (41 per cent) with a 28 per cent jump in the number of over-55s taking part in sport on a weekly basis. This is cheering news indeed when you look at the research into the importance of keeping your body active, muscles toned and the heartbeat up. Doing this regularly can lower the risk of least 20 different ailments including diabetes, obesity, heart disease, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s and some cancers. Not to mention the improvements to emotional and psychological health. The rise is partly thanks to inspirational women, including Eddie, spreading the word.
In 2013, she started the Silverfit charity with the aim of promoting lifelong fitness. Whatever you think about the term ‘silver’ – and I know many of my generation despise the word – the charity attracts almost 500 clients a week (two-thirds are women and the average age is 67) to classes as wide- ranging as Bollywood dancing and badminton. Across the country, many local gyms now actively target the over-50s with discounted membership and dedicated classes: classfinder.org.uk/fitness-class/listing/50-classes to find your nearest). You can count a great many silver heads (and those with a little of help from a bottle) at professional dancer Kevin Thatcher and Jenny Smith’s Silver London dance sessions.
‘We wanted to tackle loneliness, lack of confidence, and restore health and fitness,’ says Jenny. ‘But perhaps most importantly we’ve helped to encourage friendships. ‘One of our favourite endorsements was from a lady in her 60s who said: “I’ve wanted to dance for over 40 years, but never got the chance. I came to your class and cried tears of joy.”
As I head towards my 74th birthday, it seems time to step up my own fitness and try something more than my regular Pilates and yoga. I grabbed my gym kit to see what else was out there…
The fastest way to cheer yourself up!
What is it? Silver Cheerleading is available in four venues across London. (£2.50 or £1 for members – annual membership is £5, silverfit.org.uk. For nationwide classes for all of the following, go to classfinder.org.uk)
What’s it really like? I edged my way into a large room at the Brixton Recreation Centre to join 25 women of a certain age and a smattering of men tapping feet and nodding heads.
Our instructor, Zoe, introduced me to the group. Then, she turned on a Beyonce track and we were ready to go! The tricky bit was synchronising a sharp waggle of the hips with shaking my silver pom-poms up high. I’d definitely need a few more classes to master the more complicated moves, but I can see how even having a go is excellent aerobic activity – good for hearts, bones and muscles as well as being great fun! My fellow cheerleaders were all wreathed in smiles and I was sorry when I had to hand my pom-poms over. I’ll certainly be going back for another go.
Difficulty rating: Moderate
Dance to a new level of fitness
What is it? An exhilarating mix of different dance styles at Push Studios, London. (£11, silverlondon.co.uk)
What’s it really like? Jenny Smith teaches Dance Fit at Push Studios in South London. It’s composed of many different dance styles, and is held in a lovely studio.
The day I arrived it was teeming with glamorous women from 40 to 60 in full make-up with expensive hairstyles to match. There was also a 70-year-old who beat me feet down in every sequence. I had no idea that Jenny’s dance class would have me sampling salsa, tango, cha-cha, mambo and other dances I didn’t recognise, back to back. It was taxing as I tried to fit movement to such a variety of musical types and tempos and failed rather often. But it was also hugely entertaining. Jenny is an inspiring teacher and had me taking step risks I’d not have tried elsewhere. It really did have something for everyone and the feeling of fun was such that it didn’t matter if you had two left feet or not. The physical and mental benefits are improved heart and lungs, increased muscular strength, endurance and motor fitness – plus a hefty boost of endorphins. Just two days later I felt myself wanting to return for another go – I’d particularly like to get to grips with that tip-tapping cha-cha-cha. Strictly, I’m coming for you…
Difficulty rating: Hard
Walk like a Scandinavian
What is it? Nordic Walking. Prices range from free to £5 for non-members (£3.50 for members, silverfit.org.uk).
What’s it really like? The Nordic Walk group – a man in his late 70s who was the fast-footed star, several couples in their late 60s and 70s and two women in their 50s with well-coiffed hair and chic floaty shirts over leggings – were already striding ahead when I arrived in Richmond.
Their ski-style sticks were thrust into the ground as they propelled themselves forward. And they were going at a fair old pace. Nordic walking was originally thought up as a summer training routine for cross-country skiers, but you don’t need to be particularly fit, or very co-ordinated to be able to do it. Kay, who was leading us, helped with a beginner’s guide to placing the feet and exerting pressure on the sticks, and, as I joined in I could see why this kind of exercise is said to be particularly great for those of us at this stage of life – it uses 90 per cent of skeletal muscles, is great for heart and lungs and burns 46 per cent more calories than ordinary walking. The poles helped to balance me as they propelled me along, so that I moved far faster than normal and didn’t need to rest. I’ve never thought of walking as exhilarating before, but, with my go-faster sticks, it definitely is. For this session Kay provided me with the poles, but I’m now going to buy my own set (you can pick up a pair for around £30 or less).
Difficulty rating: As hard or easy as you want it to be.
Release your inner movie star
What is it? Bollywood Fitness Class (£3/or £2 for members, silverfit.org.uk)
What’s it really like? It was with great trepidation that I entered the hall at Whitton Community Centre, Richmond, and was greeted by the distinctly youthful and welcoming Tamanna, who whisked me around the circle of women (no men here) where ages ranged from 40s to late 70s and style was most definitely the thing.
There were swirling skirts, multi-coloured shawls swaddling elegant shoulders and colourful tops galore. The class was held in a pretty wood-floored room with a sitting area to the side. I’d read that Bollywood Dance, while an excellent heart- pumping workout, demands rhythm and co-ordination and has complex steps, so I was tempted to take refuge in the sitting area to simply watch the others. I needn’t have worried though, we were gently led through small foot twists, leg slides and delicate hand movements set to wonderful Indian music, all very manageable. The side-to-side and forward-and-back neck movements not only look fab, they also and do wonders for stretching out any stiffness. We tried sashaying as women so often do in films, using the shoulders to propel body movement with hands provocatively on the hip. I felt gently worked out and deeply uplifted by the music, but I don’t think Bollywood will be calling any time soon.
Difficulty rating: Easy
(Article source: Daily Mail)