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Making Fitness Fun

With the right motivation and technique, exercise can be safe, effective and enjoyable – at any age. David Hughes reports

IF YOU’VE had five heart attacks and two bypass operations, you might be forgiven for thinking that exercise classes are a thing of the past.

Not so for Alan, 82, from south Manchester. Attending a local class for a few months with Manchester United Foundation trainer Steve Hoy, he is no longer overweight, can walk up to five times as far, has gained muscle strength and stamina, and is passing on some of what he has learned to friends at his residential home.

“I’m really pleased,” he smiles. “I’m still here, and I’m doing well!”

Alan, along with others in the class, are living – and basketballing – proof that with the right instruction and motivation, it’s never too late to stay fit, gain strength, improve balance, and make new friends.

Alice, 88, was on her second class when I visited. “It’s great,” she reports. “I heard about it from a friend, who said you don’t need to bend or anything, so I thought I’d give it a go. You’ve got to keep yourself 52 going while you can – my father always used to say ‘keep your legs going!’”

The classes, at the Lifestyle Centre in Wythenshawe, are the result of a partnership between the Wythenshawe Community Housing Group and the Manchester United Foundation to improve quality of life for local residents. Steve’s approach to exercise has made the twice-weekly, two-hour sessions very popular – so much so that most of the class trudged through four inches of snow to attend on one occasion last winter, in contrast to less than a quarter of the over- 18s men’s health group.

For Steve, a former professional wrestler and a qualified gym instructor, taking the over-50s class has been an education. “I’ve never taken a group like this before, and it’s been a marvel,” he admits of his class, where the average age is 70 and the oldest is 90. “You’re definitely not too old, at any stage, to make improvements to your quality of life.”

Improving that quality, he adds, doesn’t mean you have to run a marathon or lift 500lb weights. It means being able to climb stairs without effort, lift a pan off the stove easily, or walk down to the shops without being out of breath. When going through the exercises with his class, Steve is careful to explain which muscles are being strengthened, and what they are useful for in daily life.

All too often, he says, people in older age groups are put off from exercising by poor instruction. Maybe you tentatively attend a local gym, and nobody takes any notice of you or makes you welcome. Or you get no proper advice about how to exercise safely.

“If you injure yourself or get hurt, the first thing you think is ‘It’s that training, I’m not going back there.’”

Click here to find out Steve's exercise tips

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