You're never too old...

The 84-year old Gym Inspiration


The beginning of Lona's Journey

When Lona (84) was led into the gym, resting on her daughter's arm for balance I will admit I was a little concerned for her safety. Research has shown that reduced balance, strength, mobility can lead to increased mortality. In addition other studies have shown that these same factors are concurrent with reduced quality of life due to reduced independence in activities of daily living, reduced confidence and increased incidences of falling.

A simple measure that can be used to judge an individual’s likelihood of falling is a turn 180 test. This test is conducted by asking an individual to walk away from you, turn 180 degrees, then, walk back to you. The greater the number of steps taken to turn indicates a greater likelihood of falling.

Lona’s turn 180 was 6 steps.... a healthy normal individual will turn in 2-3 steps this is a good indicator of balance and general mobility, so as you can see my fears for her safety were not entirely unfounded.

So, you might ask yourself, if the evidence that reduced regular exercise and activity is inextricably linked to the above poor outcomes for the general population, why is it that the people for whom it would make the most difference, we seem to be actively discouraging them from doing it?

Hospital Visits

Not explicitly you understand, quite surreptitiously actually. Consider Lona’s regular trip to the hospital. Every few months she goes into hospital for a week or so of intensive treatment.  Whilst in hospital she is always given a chair or a bed to rest in, her comfort is of great importance to the conscientious staff there. All she has to do for a whole week is receive her excellent treatment and rest.

So for a week, instead of weekly visits to the gym to help improve her strength, flexibility, balance, and general mobility, her daily walks into town across busy streets with uneven curbs and pavements are replaced with sitting for 12 hours daily. This isn’t specific to Lona’s experience just take a look around any old age care home.

This in itself wouldn’t be a problem if she were young and active. In athletes, reversibility, which is the theory for how long it takes for training to “wear off” (conditioning to reduce), can take over a week to start to occur. In a hospital bed (or any other situation where you are entirely immobile) that process can start to occur immediately.

Challenging the Sedentary Lifestyle

For those of you that have to sit for long periods at work daily know full well how stiff and uncomfortable this can make you feel. Now imagine that your level of conditioning is so low that this same stiffness and discomfort could actually cause you to be unstable on your feet further reducing your confidence to move, compounding your problems by making you weaker and less flexible (further reducing your conditioning). That was where Lona was.

Overcoming Immobility

Nowadays you will regularly see Lona walking round Victoria Park in all weathers. You will often see her doing her squat and boxing supersets in the gym, you may see her doing her stretches; you may even see her lunging up and down after shuttle runs.

As a result of weekly supervised exercise, what you won’t see anymore is her family having to come round to help her walk between rooms because they are so worried about her falling. And you most definitely won’t see her hanging on to her daughters arm to walk anywhere.

Regaining My Life!

If you ask Lona what she thinks the main differences are, she will tell you that she feels like she has her independence back, to do what she wants to without having to depend on anyone else. She would also tell you that this “just doing some exercise” has had a significant positive effect on her confidence to lead an independent life and she only wished that she had started years ago.

 One of my favourite quotes goes a little bit like this: You don’t get old and stop exercising; you get old because you stop exercising!


Pete December 2012