Richard Godwin catches up with five pensioners, aged up to 108, who thrive on extreme exercise
Edwina Brocklesby: triathlete, 76, Kingston-upon-Thames
I didnt do any exercise at all until I was 50. I remember trying out for the long-jump team at university for a laugh and I couldnt move for two weeks afterwards. So that was the end of my athletics career. And then I had three children and I was busy with my job. I was a social worker and ran two adoption agencies.
One day, I went to see an old friend from Nottingham University who was running a marathon. I thought that would be fun to do, at least a half marathon, anyway. I came back and told my husband and he laughed and said I wouldnt even be able to run as far as Northampton, which was about three miles from where we lived at the time. Its good to have a challenge like that! Sure enough, it did inspire me to run my first half marathon.
Then my husband died when I was 52. By then I had a small group of running friends and they were brilliantly supportive. I trained as a counsellor myself, but I found running better than counselling for dealing with grief. For one, you always feel better after youve been for a run as the endorphins kick in. But I think what is more important is the social element. Youre with people who support you and value you. You can talk if you want to, or you can be silent if you want to.
The running club was only small, but it did have one place in the London Marathon and thats when it became more serious for me. I ran my first marathon in 1996, when I was 53. I moved to London and became a member of the Serpentine Running Club and, with them, I completed my first London Triathlon when I was 58. I dont have an anterior cruciate ligament in either knee my daughter told me that Id need surgery if I kept pounding the streets like I used to and thats how I got into cycling and swimming as theyre a little easier on the joints. When I started swimming, at 56, I couldnt do crawl at all and swam breaststroke with my head above water like most women of my age. But swimming is a wonderful feeling. It might have something to do with our spending the first nine months of our gestation suspended in water.
Theres so much evidence that if you keep physically active, you dont experience some of the difficulties associated with ageing. There are lower rates of type 2 diabetes among the active, but falling over is the biggest thing. If you can keep your bone and muscle strength up, youre less likely to fall and you might also be able to prevent yourself from hitting the ground if you do fall. Falls are one of the things that costs the NHS the most money.
Im getting slower as I get older, of course I am. I do manage to run 5k, but I walk a bit more. I feel lucky that I can still jog along the Thames.
Edwina Brocklesby is the director of Silverfit, a charity that promotes physical activity among ageing people. She is also the UKs oldest Ironman triathlete. She was recently awarded the British Empire Medal
Eddy Diget: personal trainer, 74, Milton KeynesRead More
Kiran Aldridge and her friends are in their 40s and none of them have children. They have decided to buy a house together, where they can pool resources, skills and a yoga teacher and never be lonely
I have a group of female friends and we are all in our early 40s. None of us have children. We have known each other for what seems to be an eternity; we went to college together, and then visitedeach other at different universities and remained good friends. I clearly see a timeline of our conversations throughout the years: how we stayed up all night studying for exams fuelled by copious amounts of Red Bull and Hula Hoops; how we compared notes of the first time we dabbled with drugsat university; we talked of the hedonistic parties we attended and the hearts crushed by an array of unsuitable partners. These days, as well as discussing the healing powers of yoga and green tea, a new topic of conversation has entered our midst like a brick through the now-opaque window of our youth: who willlook after us in our old age?
I feel we have reached an age where this question can no longer be swatted like an annoying fly. It needs to be answered, or at least wrapped up and packaged like an unwanted gift. It is assumed that, if you have children, getting help in your older years is easy. But what if you dont have children to help you chug along when life becomes tough? Who will look after you then?
There are myriad reasons why noneof us had children; some made conscious decisions not to, others did not. Regardless of reasons, we are all in the same position of facing what will certainly be the most challenging times of our lives, in terms of physical capabilities, without children. This makes me feel a little disconcerted. Itold a friend who has three children. Igot an unexpected response: Youdont have kids so they could help you in your old age! To do so would be a selfish motivation, she added. I asked her why she had children. Iwanted to have my own family, she said. Iasked her why, and she said: Iwanted to be surrounded by love. Iquestioned whether her own motivation to have children was an altruistic one.
We want children to love, to fill our lives, to give us purpose, to carry on the family name, and to satisfy our own maternal desire to nurture and to love. The decision is never altruistic. Essentially, we are all asking for the same thing: to be loved.
In India, where my roots lie, family does mean looking after each other, especially in old age. Living in an extended family with an elder is the norm. As arebellious teen and as a woman in her 20s, Ihad a very bleak view of this;there seemed to be no room for individuality in a family that worked as a nucleus. (This was my view when I would stroll in at 6am after clubbing trying not to wake anyone).
As I get older, I understand the value of living in a family that has several generations looking out for each other. As a younger person, the focus is on the individual, but when you get older, I believe the focus changes to your connection with others.
My grandmother lives in a house that has two generations under the same roof. She is in her late 80s and doesnt worry about whether she can pay the heating bill or not, there is always home-cooked food and a plethora of visitors; loneliness is an alien concept. More importantly, as her ageing body weakens and is prone to falling, there is always someone to pick her up. My granny, who doesnt speak English, who hasnt visited any country other than England, whose world is microscopic compared with mine, will most certainly have a more comfortable old age than the one I see myself facing.
My friends and I have come up with an alternative way to live out our golden years. When the time comes, we have decided that we will pool all our resources and buy a property that we will live in. According to AgeUK, more than 2million people in England over the age of 75 live alone, and more than a million older people say they go for more than a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member. With our alternative old-age plan, wehope to avoid that loneliness. Wewill all live together and be eachothers carer and emotional companion. Therewill be no one tutting and losing patience with our slower pace of life, as we all would be ageing together. Our own individual care will be paramount, as each of us will be relying on the other.
There will be collective responsibility for each others health. Currently, we all participate in pursuits such as running, swimming, yoga and cycling, and none of us are smokers. When were old and living together, we will hire a yoga instructor, who will visit us once a week for a group class.
The feeling of losing ones usefulness and purpose plagues older people, whether you have children or not. Iwonder whether this feeling is magnified if you dont have grandchildren to babysit or children to worry about. When our golden years come a-calling and we all move in together, my friends and I have decided that all our talents and skills will be utilised. No one will feel useless. Its a highly practical plan. One of my friends is a nurse, one of us is a whizz in the kitchen, another a keen gardener, while I love DIY and have an eye forinterior design. We will be pooling not only our resources, but also our unique, individual talents and skills. Instead of being redundant, these willbe needed more than ever andcelebrated.
Since my friends and I came up with our alternative old-age plan, getting old no longer feels like a daunting prospect, and I no longer shy away from it instead it feels hopeful and promising. Iam almost looking forward to it. Sam plays the piano and the guitar, Steph is a published novelist and Im a writer; Ilook forward to the bohemian life that we will lead and being surrounded by like-minded people I will have known most of my adult life.
It almost feels like the perfect society, where we all focus on the greater good: helping each other out when we need it most. I envisage songs and storytelling by the piano and a house filled with a certain joie de vivre. Yes, we have no children to rely on, but we have each other, and we will share the understanding of what it means to get old. In fact, several friends of mine, who do have children, have asked me whether they can be included in our old-age plan.
To some it may appear a little utopian, but as my friend with kids insightfully pointed out, its no more utopian than believing that your kids will look after you in your old age.Read More