Meet the silver gym bunnies. They’re time-rich, toned-up, and fitter at 60+ than they ever were at 16…
Before you start to think that gym and fitness aren’t for the mid life brigade, let’s remember the sight of Debbie McGee’s fab-u-lous, 59-year-old legs doing the splits on Strictly Come Dancing. Her energy as she pranced and glided in the arms of her besotted partner Giovanni Pernice, 26, proved beyond reasonable doubt that age is nothing but a rather irrelevant number.
Doctors are prescribing the tango to increase core strength in older people. Pensioners are taking up cheerleading to lower their BMI. Yoga devotee Eileen Ash, 105, demonstrates her downfaced dog on YouTube. And TV presenter Davina McCall’s six-pack at 50-odd is so sharply pronounced, you could use it to grate cheese.
Gyms are teeming with mortgage-free pensioners who have disposable income, time on their hands and a mission to stay forever young
It’s not all about younger people
Gyms and health clubs may lure in new members using beautiful young people in their advertising, but on the inside, gyms are teeming with mortgage-free pensioners who have disposable income, time on their hands, and a mission to stay forever young.
A recent study found 70-year-olds are the most frequent gym-goers, averaging eight visits a month. Regulars at Bannatyne’s in Broadstairs, Kent, where the age range in a Spin class runs from 19 to 79, would poo-poo that as downright flaky.
CHARLES AND MARION
Husband and wife Charles, 78, and Marion, 79, spend three hours in the club at least four times a week.
‘I retired from my job as a manager at BT when I was 50,’ Charles says. ‘I thought I’d be living the dream with a pension and freedom to do whatever I wanted, travelling abroad several times a year.
‘In truth, I couldn’t come to terms with it. Nothing needed doing in the brand-new house we’d bought and I was bored stiff. I hated not being busy, missed all the banter with my colleagues, and got really grumpy.
‘Joining the gym was the best move we ever made. While Marion does her Pilates and yoga, I swim for at least an hour, then we meet in the Jacuzzi before going for a coffee.
‘The social side is fantastic. When we go on holiday now, we pine for the gym and can’t wait to get back into the routine.’
Instructor Andrea won’t admit to her date of birth, but it’s fair to say she’s been ‘21 again’ for three-quarters of a century. She teaches up to seven classes a day, including dance, weights and body pump.
‘Commitment to fitness gets stronger the older you get,’ she says. ‘Many have done 60 lengths of the pool before 9am. Endorphins are addictive no matter your age.’
The gym-bunny grannies and grandpas are up with the lark, fingers hovering over their iPads to secure their place in Spin or Step
The fitness classes are so popular with the 60+ crowd, they can only be released for online booking three days ahead, so in theory everyone has a chance. But if you haven’t set your alarm for 6am, you’ve had it. The gym-bunny grannies and grandpas are up with the lark, fingers hovering over their iPads to secure their place in Spin or Step.
‘I’m exhausted after one Legs, Tums and Bums class,’ says Sarah, a mum in her 30s. ‘But these guys do the next class, the one after that, then go for a swim in the outdoor pool.
‘I feel kind of sorry for some of the younger men at the club, because maybe they join hoping to meet young hotties like the girls in the adverts. In reality, they’re more likely to bump into their nan.’
How about the benefits of exercising outdoors?
Bea, 82, goes to her gym in North London every morning. ‘When I first looked around this place, I was amazed. For me, a gymnasium brought back schoolgirl memories of grey knickers and vaulting over wooden boxes.
‘I started off just swimming and stretching. But as I got fitter and my confidence grew, I tried all sorts of new exercises. I like doing circuits and the loud music makes me feel young.
‘Some of the lads are bouncers and most of them are ever-so friendly. They have these big, bulging muscles and I tell them they look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’ve always been a flirt.’
“…when older people lose weight and get fitter, they get all fired up, if you know what I’m saying…”
Bea’s not the only one to sniff the sexual breeze. ‘For me, sweat isn’t attractive,’ says Caroline, 69, ‘but when older people lose weight and get fitter, they get all fired up, if you know what I’m saying.
‘You see them in the pool or sauna getting close, very close, then they’ll get into their respective cars and go home to their husbands and wives.’
Michael, a silver fox in his 60s, says: ‘When you get to my age, you have two choices. You can let your body droop and drop – or you can do something about it.
‘I have friends who get a twinge in their knee and refuse to leave the sofa. Achy joints are part of life, but exercise is the best painkiller of all. ‘Use it or lose it’ is my mantra these days.’
Health club manager Alex, 28, is wowed by the commitment of the senior members, some of whom are well into their 90s. He believes the sense of community is as important as the obvious health benefits of weight loss, reduced blood pressure and improved muscle tone.
‘It’s the ideal place to meet people and after a hard work-out, you’ve earned your coffee in the café.
‘At the last Christmas party, a lady at least 50 years older than me asked me to dance. She took control and definitely had all the moves. I’d never done ballroom dancing before and I was knackered!’
For the silver-haired and super-fit, ‘winding down’ is something you do at the end of your second Zumba class of the day.
Some tips and truths from Bannatynes for older gym bunnies
- Top classes for older people are aqua, yoga, Les Mills Body Balance, Zumba, and Speedflex (a full-body cardio and resistance workout).
- All staff are qualified in rehabilitation and recommend a variety of exercise to keep things fresh and interesting.
- Classes generally have different levels. So even with a high-octane Spin session, you can start at Level One and work your way up.
- Slow, structured dance, such as the tango, provides ankle and core strength, aiding posture and balance. It typically burns off six calories a minute.