Dr Poonam Bajaj remembers the first time she met Mrs K. She had just started her career as a physical therapist when Mrs K, then seventy-five, told her she would do whatever workout it took, to avoid a knee-replacement surgery. ‘It was twenty years ago. When she passed away at the age of ninety-six in 2021, Mrs K was walking and managing movement for daily activities. She never needed that surgery.’ Mrs K did not share her workout on Instagram as an older influencer. She wasn’t featured by the media for exercising at eighty. She simply stayed the course.
Dr Bajaj, who heads the neurological rehabilitation department in Mumbai’s Sir H. N. Reliance Foundation Hospital, asked Mrs K to use two crutches and walk regularly, apart from doing strengthening exercises. When we speak to her, Dr Bajaj keeps referring to Mrs K as an example, despite having trained senior citizens who have run marathons and had far more fitness ‘achievements’. It’s because Mrs K’s story shows there is no age limit or perfect health condition to start a fitness or movement routine. All you need is the dedication to stick to it. ‘Exercise and movement are your biggest anti-ageing elixir’, says Dr Bajaj. ‘It keeps everything going on, from your heart to skin to your organs. There is no other option to stay active but to incorporate movement in your life, like Mrs K did.’
Are Older Indians on the Move?
Examples of active late-life fitness adapters are all around us these days. Our media has often featured late-life marathoners, sixty-plus mountain climbers, septuagenarian cyclists and octogenarian swimmers. Chandigarh’s Tripat Singh, seventy-six, is an Instagram influencer who took up fitness in his sixties to overcome the sorrow of his wife’s death. Bylahalli Raghunath Janardan cycles everywhere at eighty-seven started running after sixty and has completed sixteen full marathons. Supermodel Milind Soman’s mother Usha can hold a plank with ease at eighty-one and recently became the oldest Indian to do the Sandakphu trek. There is a growing interest in starting a fitness routine among many urban elders around us. Mountaineer and former banker Mala Honatti, sixty-seven, organizes trekking expeditions. Most of her clients include older adults, many of them female homemakers who often start working out for the first time only to train for the treks and discover a fitness routine in the process. It’s a great upcoming trend because as we grow older, our physiological functions start ebbing away and movement and exercise become even more important than earlier.
Extracted with permission from Rethinking Ageing by Reshmi Chakraborty and Nidhi Chawla, published by Penguin Random House India