We are proud of having so many active, vibrant, and engaged 80+ year old gym members (almost thirty of them!) in our Empower Fitness Community. They are role models for many of us “younger” gals and we want to learn from them. On March 17, I hosted a tea and discussion group for several of these 80+ year old women who are true examples of “aging with style”. More than twenty women participated… their average age is 85; about half are widowed/single and living alone; and about half live with a husband. All have at least one medical illness or condition, and all are currently taking at least one medication. There were prepared questions to focus our discussion, and here’s what these lovely ladies had to say…
Exercise is Important to Them
These gals feel exercise is important to them because it simply makes them feel better and function better, both physically and mentally. They state that exercising gives them more energy, more agility, more flexible joints (especially the knee), and better balance and stability. All take pride in looking good and wearing the same size clothes. The primary challenge to exercise mentioned by our 80+ year olds was arthritic joint pain, but it doesn’t stop them (most of the time) from exercising.
They want to keep their “groove” going; that is, keep doing the things they love that give them independence like walking, driving, climbing steps, traveling, dancing, shopping, and gardening. There was lots of motivation to be actively involved in social activities, especially with friends and children and grandchildren!
Why Belong to a Gym?
Gals stated that gym membership helps them stay focused on exercise, and maintain a routine (especially helpful after retirement or the death of a spouse). The social aspects of going to a gym are also important; as Rorie stated: “It gets me on my feet, out of my apartment, and away from a computer”. The classes, especially the low to moderate intensity ones, provide a social as well as an instructional focus for members. Most report that their overall health has been much better since joining a gym. As Eleanor stated: “When I decided to not have another epidural for my sciatica pain, I took the Chair Yoga and the Chair Strength/Balance Class, and the yoga relieved me of the nocturnal leg pain I had developed!” Several of the ladies also reported the great feedback they get from their doctors with definite clinical improvement like lowered blood pressure and lowered cholesterol.
Managing Health Care and Safety at Home
Most of this group were highly satisfied with their Primary Care Doctor, emphasizing the importance of managing care with other specialists involved as well as managing the safety and appropriateness of medications. All felt safe in their current home environment; they are making several safety adaptations such as medical alert systems, emergency call lists, and environmental adaptations such as grab bars in bathroom areas.
Virtually all of our 80+ year old members value their social lives and connections with other people. Many belong to and are active in their church communities. Several enjoy having lunch dates and travelling to the casino and on other bus trips. Volunteer work is very common; in addition to church communities women are involved with such organizations as League of Women Voters, Grounds for Sculpture, VFW Posts, Homefront, and Civic Associations. As one of our members stated: “volunteering helps me feel needed while I’m helping others”.
The Future: Fears and Dreams
By far, the most common fear expressed about the future was “being a burden to family and others”. The women were concerned about losing their physical independence, having to live in a nursing home, and developing dementia. As one lady put it….”I’m most afraid of losing control of me”. Another woman expressed feelings of sadness as the reality sets in that “I can’t do what I used to do…”.
Though the biggest dream for the future was “to keep moving, keep going”, some ladies had specific goals of travel or living to see family milestones, such as grandchildren getting married. One gal even has a dream of “getting her papers in order before she dies!”.
Proud of Being 80+
This group expressed much pride in being able to live independently, drive, exercise, have a sharp mind, and “do what I want to do”. Many stated that they take pride in their physical appearance. “I’m really proud when people tell me that I don’t look or act like a 80+ year old!” Several women expressed a positive attitude of resilience toward the future, feeling able to deal with whatever life brings and “take things as they come”. One woman specifically stated that she is thrilled that her daughters call her and want to spend time with her; another stated that she is proud that people she impacted in her professional career remember her and stay in touch. And, finally, one woman’s pride expressed in the statement “I can still play mah jong with 60 year olds and beat the crap out of them!”