Sam and I (Tracy) have long been interested in hearing from women who are older than we are, who can serve as role models for aging well. When we started the blog approaching 50, we recognized that there’s still a long way to go after 50. One good reason for hitting 50 with the right attitude towards health and physical activity is that with any luck we’ll live a lot longer than that.
So it’s my great pleasure to introduce you to today’s guest blogger, Anne Cummings. I met Anne at Wednesday Feminist Lunch when I first started working at the university as a tenure track assistant professor back in 1992. Wednesday Feminist Lunch was a regular thing that we did week in, week out. And that’s where I got loads of informal mentoring from wonderful feminist scholars and activists like Anne.
When she retired early, I remember asking Anne if she would still continue attending Wednesday Lunch. I mean, she came every single week. How could she give it up? With no apologies, Anne said, “No. When I retire, I’m retiring from it all.”
I heard from Anne last week about how her physical fitness has improved in retirement. This sort of thing always makes my ears perk up. “Do you want to blog about it for us?” I asked. “Okay,” said Anne.
So here is Anne’s blog post about how her fitness has improved in the years since her retirement.
I was an academic for many years of my life with most of that time being spent sitting at my computer writing and responding to emails. During my last ten years, I did do yoga once a week and walked an hour with a woman five days a week in the late afternoons. However, I knew that was not enough to counter the many hours of sitting.
So when I retired, I made a commitment to myself that taking care of my body was going to be a high priority. To my yoga and walking (now with four different women partners), I added weekly Tai Chi and a bi-weekly exercise class with the Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging at Mount St. Joseph’s which is a non-profit research centre of Western University for people 55 and older. It is this latter program that greatly changed my perceptions of the physical capabilities of female seniors. See this link for more information.
Unlike a commercial fitness centre, this program first assesses your current physical abilities and then places you in a class that fits your capabilities. While the majority of the Monday-Friday, 6:30 a.m.- 6:16 p. m. classes include intense cardiovascular exercises, there are also classes for people with balance, lung or osteoporosis issues. It surprised me to discover that the program had over 500 participants with an average age of 75 and a range from 55-100 years.
At my first class in their gymnasium, I could not believe the level of exercise that we were pushed to do by a very enthusiastic, drill sergeant-type instructor. I had no idea that women seniors ran, did push ups, burpees, mountain climbers, etc. I found it highly motivating to see women (80-20 ratio of women to men in classes) who were my age or older exercising with such vigor.
I realized that I had internalized a view of aging that included diminished physical abilities. Because I was with the same group of people bi-weekly, it was easy to bond quickly with classmates for both support and good-natured complaints about being worked so hard.
After eight years in the program, at age 70, I feel incredibly fit and strong from both the cardio exercise and weight training on machines. I am rarely sick and am very grateful that I found this program. If there are days when I do not feel like going to class, I go anyway because I want to spend time with these friends and I know that I always feel better after class.
Because I am a competitive person and because the oldest person to remain in the program made it to the age of 100, I now have the goal of staying with this exercise program until I reach 100 years.
Anne Cummings is a happily retired Professor Emerita of Counselling Psychology from Western University in London, Ontario. She is still a feminist activist working on LGBTQ and Islamaphobia issues.