Super Seniors: Challenging the age perception in Tsawwassen
On a typical day in the life of Lena Galamini, she’ll wake up at six in the morning and go running for an hour. Then she’ll come home and do between 100 and 200 pushups, stretch, and begin walking to Winskill Aquatic and Fitness Centre where she’ll spend a few more hours lifting weights and doing zumba or yoga.
If this sounds like the workout routine of an athlete in their twenties you may be surprised to learn that Lena is 77 years old. She’s also likely a lot healthier than your average twenty-year-old.
Lena is one of several “super seniors” I’ve met in Tsawwassen, men and women who are shattering the stereotypes of what it means to be “old.”
“If I keep healthy it’s not a drain to my kids so they don’t have to worry about me,” explains Lena as she demonstrates a few yoga moves outside Winskill. “I don’t care how good I look, how bad I look, that’s not imporant to me. What’s important is being healthy on the inside.”
A resident of Tsawwassen for the past 25 years, Lena suggests her propensity for fitness comes from being raised in Italy where walking everywhere is normal. But her thirst for exercise really began in her twenties while living in the tiny town of Kitimat in Northern B.C.
Her first goal was to run one mile around the track at the YMCA.
“At first I thought, wow I’ve done a mile running. Well then I was hooked on it. Then three miles, then six, then half marathon and full marathon.”
Not all of our super seniors began working out at a young age though. Turkan Shaw, 83, didn’t really start excerising until she retired in 1995 and was looking for a way to keep active.
She began with some light swimming at Winskill’s pool, and then started lifting weights. Before she knew it she was doing step classes, yoga, and even line dancing at Kin Village.
“I feel just wonderful, energized, and it motivates me,” says Turkan. “It’s important for socializing, actually. Especially after I lost my husband two years ago. I had to do something to socialize, otherwise I would probably feel depression.”
Chatting with friends like Lena is a big motivation for many seniors who workout at Winskill.
Ron Perozny, at just 73 years old, is the youngster in this group of mainly women. But he says he’s in a good group of seniors where he’s trying and learning new things that contribute to his health and well-being. Like yoga.
“That is part of the social activity where you’re working hard but before you know it the time is over. Winskill is a big part of my fitness.”
Balancing work and play is important, adds Ron, who is semi-retired. He still works two days a week and the other five exercising. It’s clear which one he prefers.
“Workout shouldn’t have the word ‘work’ in it. Because if you choose the right activity and environment then it’s fun.”
Perhaps the most impressive member of these “super seniors” is Olga Crawford, who turns 92 years old next month, yet continues to workout regularly.
At her age, surely she’s earned a chance to sit back and just relax?
“So I’ve been told,” says Olga, laughing. “But if you give up, you’ll stiffen up too much. You feel better after exercising. I do. I might be tired but I still feel better.”
Olga says people think she’s lying about her age when they see her on the treadmill, lifting weights or “aquacizing” in the pool at Winskill. But she’s got her husband of 63 years, Ralph, to back up her story. After all, she convinced him to come work out three days a week with her!
Turkan says working out has kept her so healthy that she doesn’t need to take any medication, which is rare for her age. She only sees her doctor once a year for a routine checkup. She does have some back problems from a nagging injury but refuses to stop working out for fear she will “stiffen up” and become frail.
“I don’t pay attention, I just come, do my exercises and I feel healthier when I do these things.”
Ron agrees that it’s important to stay active and that some of the classes at Winskill, such as yoga, seem to be aimed at seniors with an emphasis on maintaining balance, to prevent those falls that can really be devastating.
“I think we’ve all noticed you lose your balance as you get older,” says Ron, who adds that keeping fit isn’t just a personal benefit. It helps everybody to have a healthy community, including the taxpayer, who won’t have to spend money on medication and accidents caused by frailty. “For every membership at Winkill you probably save health care a bundle of money.”
For Lena, she says the benefits go beyond the physical and help the brain as well. Seniors don’t just get frail when they stop moving, they also suffer from isolation because they’re unable to get out and about. Studies have shown even 15 minutes of exercise a day can reduce your chances of developing dementia by 45 percent, while working out three times a week could be more effective in relieving depression than doctor-prescribed medication.
“When you’re depressed, don’t stay in the house,” says Lena. “Go out and walk because the minute you step out you see different things in your mind like a beautiful tree or the sky is blue. So you don’t think anymore what you were feeling before.”
Lena’s eyes sparkle and she breaks into a wide smile.
“I feel healthy, I feel alive, and I don’t care if death comes tomorrow. That’s fine. So I take it day by day and I love life. When I cannot [exercise] anymore, well I will ask my ‘boss’ to take me,” says Lena, pointing upwards and laughing.