Meet our two bloggers, experiencing Forever Active for the first time.
Sandra McAdams is a regular writer for her parish magazine. Exercise isn’t a stranger to her – she digs and hedge prunes her garden - but she admits it isn’t her best friend and she didn’t get on with the rowing machine at the gym, either. Will attending a Forever Active class help a new friendship bloom?
Exercise to Music
I am 73 and rather ashamed of my level of fitness. Yes, I garden for a lot of the year but in the winter I really am not keen on the cold so I tend to look out of the window and think “I really should cut back that Michaelmas daisy” but then don’t do anything about it. I don’t want to end up being a burden to my husband or my children so I really need to tackle this.
The healthy eating bit I feel I have cracked; I don’t eat very much in the way of sugary foods or drinks have a low fat diet, moderate alcoholic intake and watch the carbs. I still love my food, though! I want to keep mentally alert so I play some bridge and online Scrabble with friends. But there is still the matter of exercise.
One day, I got an email from East Herts District Council about a scheme called Forever Active East Herts, which is especially for the over-50s, so I looked on their website to see what was on offer; loads of things, it transpired! I could do everything from table tennis to tai chi and from walking netball to Zumba. Best of all – I could try the first class for free. What was I waiting for?
One Thursday, [17 November] found me in Leaside Methodist Church, Ware, at an Exercise to Music class. Our lovely, friendly tutor was called Belinda Nuttall and she put us through our paces, stretching our muscles and helping us to improve our balance, all to music. It was great fun and I really enjoyed myself. My classmates were of all sorts of ages and ability; some were in wheelchairs and others were younger than I. We all worked at our own level and Belinda had a kind word for everyone. Some of the exercise we did sitting in chairs, some of it was aerobic and some was based on Tai Chi. We even played seated volleyball!
I can thoroughly recommend this class and hope to come back to it. In the meantime I am going to try some of the other available options. Watch this space…
Table Tennis at Sawbridgeworth – Thursdays at 1.30pm
The last time I wielded a bat was about 40 years ago so it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I ventured into the Memorial Hall in Sawbridgeworth to join in the over fifties table tennis goup. I need not have had any fears; it was a great experience.
The course leader, Peter Lee, had his finger on the pulse and I was soon put with another newcomer, Mike, to have a knock-up. After a while we were moved on to play doubles with two more experienced players, and then individually whisked into a separate room where a professional coach gave us some basic tuition.
There were six tables in the main hall and the exercise was fun and energetic and although I was pretty hopeless no-one seemed to mind. After an hour or so there was a break and the twenty plus players went into the kitchen to chat over a mug of tea. Peter gave out some notices and then it was back to the tables again.
I was really struck by how well the session was organised by Peter, how much everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves and by the general friendliness of the participants. Although we were all getting on in years it was clear that everyone was really benefitting from the physical and mental exercise involved in this speedy game. I loved every moment of it and definitely hope to go back.
It was a cold and frosty morning when I set out for my third venture into keeping fit. This time it was to try out Walking Netball at Wodson Park Sports and Leisure Centre, Ware.
The last time I played netball I was 16 and a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. I have to say that it showed.
As before, I was warmly welcomed, this time by coach, Lucy Ponting, and by the other women in the group. Normally, this event takes place inside but on this particular day we were outside so I got the full experience.
We started with some fun games that woke up our minds as well as our bodies. Although we all wanted to do well no-one was made to feel a failure (which I appreciated!) .
When we got to playing a game, it was obvious that some of the women had been playing for a while and had become rather good at shooting. Unfortunately, I found that they had made the goalposts higher since my schooldays – or at least that is how they seemed – and I failed to get a single ball in the net! Never mind; it was good fun trying anyway.
It was certainly good exercise in a very friendly and supportive atmosphere. Everyone there really enjoyed the sport and some had been doing it for quite a while. There was even some talk of competing against other Walking Netball teams in the future.
After 35 years working full-time, Martin Betts cut down his working hours and upped his television habit. Now he’s looking to get off the sofa, try some new Forever Active classes, meet new people and maybe even tackle some DIY.
Tai Chi……..full of eastern promise
No, it’s not Turkish delight or another blend of tea, though it does have its origins in the same region as the nation’s favourite hot drink.
I thought I had better find out exactly what tai chi does promise. I am now over 65 and recently reduced my working week to three days. I deserved a rest and up to now have done very little in my two spare days, apart from lying on the sofa watching the box. I have managed to accumulate large amounts of cellulite and my joints shout at me every morning as I walk downstairs; anyway, I picked myself up one Monday morning and set off to the Memorial Hall in Sawbridgeworth, my beloved town.
What a surprise to see so many people arriving and looking forward to the session. A mixture of both sexes and in a range of ages, I am guessing, from early 50s to late 70s.
We started very simply by just centring ourselves, feet slightly apart and breathing slowly in and out. Then we started to balance on one foot and then the other, moving up and down by bending the knees. The teacher. Shi Xing Fa, played relaxing eastern sounding music on his smartphone as he led us through some very gentle exercises.
Many in the class have been for only a few weeks while others had obviously been practicing for some time but the teacher reassured us beginners that it was quite acceptable to move at your own pace and learn at your own speed.
For a chap of my size and fitness level it was bearable. My knees, calves and thighs soon let me know they were working. The movements are supposed to flow into one another, but as a beginner you tend to just take every position as a separate stance. After a while I felt I was starting to get the hang of moving from one position into the next in a more fluid manner.
I thought to myself ‘Yes, you could do this with a bit of practice, perhaps this is your first step to a fitter and more supple body’.
I’ll let you know in the coming weeks how I fare.
Tai Chi Che... lessons for longevity
The first thing our tai chi instructor tells us is to lift the crown of our heads; we then then have to lower our chin, expand our chest and push out our stomachs to stretch our vertebrae. During all of the movements, we are told to keep the spine and head in line and vertical. We have to concentrate on the spot in front of our lumbar region, known as the ‘chi’, just behind the stomach.
I tried hard not to think about my stomach as I had passed the baker and decided on a large pasty afterwards.
Our instructor, Shi Xing Fa, explained that he had been in a car crash, sustaining whiplash and pulling muscles in his back. He has been training since 1992 and learned his discipline from the monks at the Shau Ling temple. He said that hadn’t had to have hospital treatment because, within a few days, he had worked his spine through tai chi movements; he looked perfectly fit and took the class as normal.
I talked to a few of the students after the lesson to find out more about the therapeutic advantages. Kerry confirmed to me that her back pain had gone and her joints and muscles were stronger. Jenny said it wasn’t a five minute wonder but, over time, it certainly helped her osteoporosis and she felt stronger in her legs. While Trevor said his balance had improved and; though he suffers from epilepsy, he felt he had more control.
Shi told us that the body knows what to do naturally. He said: “Don’t think too much about the movements, allow the body to follow its natural flow, like a river.” Mine was moving in a variety of different directions, similar to the Severn Bore, but I was beginning to get the hang of it.
Tai Chi……. feeling good
Tai chi has its roots in eastern philosophy and ancient forms of martial arts. – so as well as helping you become fitter, mentally and physically, it can give you formidable skills in protecting yourself.
However, you don’t have to practice it as a martial art, though many of the movements are based on these fighting forms. Teacher Shi XingFa is very quick to point out that you can practice it just for the health benefits - as long as you do it correctly.
He also explained that Tai Chi looks inwards to the powers you already possess, even though most of us are unaware of them. It teaches you to discover the ‘Chi’, or life force, within ourselves.
In tai chi there are three Chi reservoirs in the body; if you teach your body to follow the natural flow of these reservoirs, you can rediscover it.
Although my legs ached after my third session, I felt good.