May 17, 2013 6:46 pm

An octogenarian’s gym routine

An unexpected role model - such as one’s elderly mother -can encourage one to get fit
Illustration by James Ferguson of a walker©James Ferguson

My mother, 85 next month, has startled me by developing a serious gym habit. Three times a week she sets off with her walking frame to the local gym, does her time on the bike, the rowing machine and a whole series of resistance contraptions, before returning home via the supermarket. Until this sudden bout of activity she had never attended a gym in her life.

This is a serious departure from routine, brought on by her GP’s suggestion that the symptoms of her mild diabetes could be alleviated by exercise. My mother is not one to constantly bang on about her ailments; indeed I’ve noticed that it’s actually we middle-aged people who are most prone to discuss our aches, pains and general malfunctioning. Only last week I was in Annabel’s when two of my guests animatedly discussed the root canal treatments that they were both, by coincidence, scheduled to have the next day. One of them had a very early appointment, and used that as an excuse to eschew drink of any kind. How boring do you have to be to go to Annabel’s, drink tap water, and talk about your impending root canal treatment?

When you are young, of course, you barely give ill health a second thought. But even Cost Centre #3, at 14, has felt the impact of being unwell. A chest infection left him unable to attend his Combined Cadet Force camp at Easter, so he could not take part in the passing-out parade a few weeks later. He has now transferred from the army to the RAF section, so has to decide if he enters a second year of CCF training and tries to pass out again.

That’s not the only decision he is in the throes of making, however. We are discussing his GCSE choices. (He has abandoned Latin, so I am insisting on classical civilisation, which seems to me like Latin and Greek without the language study.)

His school also requires a number of non-academic interests, so we have been talking about what he would do next term when cricket is no longer available. Debating, perhaps? It would improve his current affairs knowledge and oral English, and be good for his self-confidence. He immediately dismissed the last point. “Why do I need that?” he said. “I have bags of self-confidence.” Clearly.

Like his brother, CC#3 adores cricket, but neither is anywhere near as good as their father was at their age. As a schoolboy, he even represented his country, which must be the pinnacle of sporting ambition at any age.

I was delighted to hear that Chantel Nienaber, the personal trainer I used when I was in South Africa last year, had been selected to represent her country in the International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) Trail World Championships in Wales this summer. I can’t imagine ever running a marathon, let alone an ultra marathon, but I’m pleased someone I know is, and even more pleased that the event is taking place here in the UK.

My delight in reading of Chantel’s selection was marred by learning that she might not, after all, be able to compete. Last month, Athletics South Africa was placed under administration, and that was the end of any potential official funding. So I am hoping that Chantel (who after all is extremely presentable and an inspiration) will find a commercial sponsor to help her get to Wales.

Despite my mother’s gym attendance (she tells me she has increased her reps, words I never expected to hear her utter), she is not, to the best of my knowledge, planning to be a contender in the IAU world championships. But her example has convinced several people in her church congregation to start going to the gym. Even my father, who is 85 already, has had his induction and started a twice-weekly routine. I can only hope that I am as self-disciplined when I reach their age.

mrsmoneypenny@ft.com

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