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'I’m fitter now than in my 20s!'

Think there’s an age limit on taking up exercise? Nonsense! These 70-somethings prove you wrong

Yoga teacher Barbara Currie, 73 (pictured above), lives in Surrey with her husband Gordon

‘The moment I walked into my first yoga class, my life changed forever. After a career working as a nurse, then a flight attendant travelling the world, I thought I’d seen everything. But watching the 60-something yoga teacher move with the ease of a teenager, I felt truly inspired.

 

It was 1970 and I’d just moved to Glasgow with Gordon and our little girl, aged two. Keen to make friends, I thought I’d give yoga a try and was hooked immediately. I left that first class with more energy than I’d had in ages.

 

After three years I was good enough to train with my instructor, and within another three years I’d qualified as a yoga teacher. I never intended to – I just wanted a better understanding of something I enjoyed so much. Then we moved back to London and I found a new class. Soon after I’d started, the instructor announced she was leaving and asked if I’d consider taking over. It didn’t take much for me to say yes, and I fell in love all over again. Watching the newcomers took me back to my formative yoga years, and it felt so good being able to help people get healthy and in shape.

I had a little girl, aged two, and was keen to make friends, so thought I’d give yoga a try

Fast forward 40 years and I’m still teaching 16 hours of hatha yoga [which combines breathing exercises with various postures] a week. Everyone’s amazed when I tell them I’m in my 70s, but I’ll keep going until my body tells me otherwise. I’m more flexible now than when I started in my 20s, and I still have the supple joints, strength and lean, long shape that I love so much. My oldest student is in her 90s, so I look to her for inspiration!

 

My family’s proud I’m still a yogi after all these years. But no matter how often I ask Gordon to give it a try, he insists on sticking to golf – even though I’ve assured him that mastering the mountain pose would be good for his swing!’

Retired Major Janice Meek in the North Pole

Retired mayor Janice Meek, 71 (pictured above), lives in East Sussex 

‘Flopping into a chair in my cosy living room after a 12-mile walk, followed by a round of sit-ups and press-ups – I can barely believe I’m doing this in my 70s! But that’s what it takes to prepare for my next adventure…

 

My fitness journey only began at 52, when my son Daniel persuaded me to join him in rowing across the Atlantic in a 23ft wooden boat. I know it seems mad, but my darling husband had died the year before and the shock of that spurred me on to new challenges.

 

I had a year to train, so despite not having exercised since school, I joined a gym and enlisted the help of a trainer. I began by rowing daily for a few minutes, then built it up gradually to two hours at a time.

 

The 3,000-mile boat adventure was wonderful, daunting and utterly life-changing. Sometimes, as the rain lashed down and the lightning crashed over our heads, I’d hold
on to the oars for dear life. But then we’d see dolphins swimming alongside us. We made it, but after 101 days at sea I decided to take it easy for a while! I thought I’d put my challenges to bed, but then, some 10 years later, a friend was organising a 350-mile ski and trek across the North Pole, so Daniel and I signed up.

I’d never exercised until my 50s – now I’ve trekked to the North Pole!

At 63, the training was tough – 10-mile daily walks combined with twice-weekly 30-mile treks in nearby countryside – but again, I found reserves of determination and stamina that surprised me.

 

I was the oldest on the trek itself, and we suffered the worst ice conditions for 40 years. Every step felt like torture and there were moments when I doubted we’d finish. But I felt elated at the end: my body was capable of so much more than I realised.

 

Recently, I’ve focused on raising funds for dementia charities (my mum died from the disease last year, aged 93). So my next challenge will be a fundraising trek across the South Pole in 2017.

 

I’ve realised age is irrelevant on a trek – whether you’re 20 or 70, it’s about your determination to succeed. I now hold three Guinness World Records: the first mum and son team to row an ocean, and to reach the Magnetic North Pole, plus I’m also the oldest woman to reach the Magnetic North Pole. But my biggest prize is having an amazing set of memories and a body I know can do anything – if I ask it nicely!’

Housewife Ann Bebbington and friend wearing boxing gloves

Housewife Ann Bebbington, 70 (pictured above left), lives in Greater Manchester with her husband John

‘One blustery autumnal day in 2013 I found myself standing in my community gym, taking off my wedding ring and strapping on a pair of boxing gloves. As a housewife and grandmother of 10, I never expected to take up boxing at the age of 68.

 

It all began after I spotted posters around town for a new ‘I Will If You Will’ campaign, encouraging women in the area to get fit in new ways. Although I had no real fitness background, I’d always walked everywhere and was in reasonable shape. But I liked the idea of a new challenge and before I could change my mind, I signed up to some ladies-only classes.

 

I was one of the oldest there, so I didn’t know if I’d even be able to keep up. When I discovered the class would be led by former British champ Ady Lewis, I was terrified that I wouldn’t make it through the first 10 minutes!

Boxing is the highlight of my week – and I love showing off my mean right hook

Thankfully, Ady, along with lead coach Liz, was surprisingly gentle. Together they had us doing various exercises, including burpees, squats and press-ups, to improve our cardio fitness. I can’t lie, the burpees were – and still are – really tough. Even the 20-somethings struggle! But I was determined to get fit and do my best, so I carried on pushing myself. After the training, we moved on to learning the correct techniques for punching the bag, or taking swipes at each other (using protective pads, of course).

 

I was delighted I’d been able to keep pace with the others in the class. Despite dripping with sweat and being utterly exhausted, it felt like a wonderful achievement, and I vowed to keep going. Now, two years on, my Thursday evening class is the highlight of my week. Plus, I get the chance to show off my mean right hook and enjoy a thorough body workout in the process.

 

The whole family is so pleased about my fitness hobby – even if it’s a bit unusual – which has given me bags more energy to play with my grandkids. I only wish I’d done it years ago – I can’t begin to imagine the shape I’d be in now!

 

I’m sure there aren’t many people out there who would expect a 70-year-old granny to box, but I’ve shown ’em!’

apr/Health 1st person

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Interviews Fiona Ford Photography: Gemma Day, Full Stop Photography
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